Quotable from UE’s win over Illinois State

UE put together one of its best 40-minute efforts of the season on Wednesday, knocking off Illinois State in blowout fashion. The Aces led by as many as 23 points in a 79-62 victory.

It moved UE to sole possession of fifth place in the Missouri Valley Conference standings and away from the seventh-place threshold that means playing on the opening day of Arch Madness. “That might have been one of the first things we talked about going into this is both teams were tied in conference there in that little cluster,” said senior Ned Cox. “And the winner of this game did get that one-game advantage, so this kind of gave us that sense of urgency that this is big and let’s not get in that play-in game. We’re not trying to play on Thursday night.”

Added senior Colt Ryan on Arch Madness: “We’ve kind of been talking, and you’re going to have to beat every team over there is the way we see it if we’re going to win anyway. But we definitely want to make sure we’re only playing three games – not four – because that’s a pretty big disadvantage. Anywhere playing on Friday, so anywhere first through six – that’s where we want to make sure we land.”

Free throws were key, as Illinois State entered having made 36 more foul shots than opponents even shot in the five games before Wednesday. UE allowed the Redbirds to shoot just seven at the Ford Center. “That was a big focal point for us, which is easier said than done,” said coach Marty Simmons. “They’re such an aggressive offensive team, and (Jackie) Carmichael is such an aggressive player inside that it’s hard not to foul. But our guys – they gave the effort, and I think that played a big part in the outcome…I’m just happy for the guys. I think we’ve played better the last couple times out – didn’t get rewarded against Creighton. I’ve got a lot of respect for Illinois State. They’ve been playing good basketball, and it’s a good win for our team.”

The Aces led the entire way, and when Illinois State cut the deficit to 47-41 in the second half, UE responded on an 8-0 run. Cox hit back-to-back 3-pointers before sophomore Ryan Sawvell tipped in a layup. “That was huge,” Simmons said. “Too many times we haven’t been able to do that. He stepped up and hit, I think, a couple 3-point shots – especially against a team like Illinois State they get going and it snow balls. That’s something we haven’t been able to do – cut runs down, and making shots and getting to the free throw line certainly helps that.”

Illinois State coach Dan Muller’s opening statement after the game: “This is going to be pretty quick. We got out-competed in every aspect of the game. Credit Evansville. They just absolutely smacked us around, which I was surprised by with our team and disappointed. They really won every single facet of the game tonight.”

UE’s reserves scored just nine points, but they played big minutes: 18 from D.J. Balentine and 11 from Jordan Nelson in particular as senior Troy Taylor dealt with foul trouble in the first half. “Bench play was big for us just coming in and being able to maintain the way they did,” Cox said. “I know at one point, I think Colt, Troy and myself were all out at the same time. Usually when that happens, we get a little bit stagnant. But I think they did a great job today. They brought a lot of energy off the bench. They were scoring the ball, so it was big for us.”

Ryan said there were “two really big things” that factored into the Aces’ win: “Our free throw percentage – coach Simmons mentioned that they had been shooting a ridiculous amount of free throws more than their opponent the last five games. Here, we shot 28 tonight and they only shot seven. So that’s a big stat right there. I think one of the things we’ve been having trouble with in our halves and in our games is scoring droughts. I don’t think we really had a scoring drought tonight. Guys were making shots, getting to the basket and scoring. That kind of kept our flow going, so we never really got too far down.”

The game came three days after Illinois State lost to Wichita State in part due to a controversial flagrant foul call. The fallout sparked increased attention on Muller’s team, to which he said Wednesday’s performance “was either a hangover or something else.” Added Muller: “We were two steps slow all night. We were stuck in mud. Didn’t think it would happen. I thought it could, of course. Obviously wanted to think positively about it. We were two or three steps slow. We didn’t react. We didn’t execute the game plan. But (UE’s) really good at home. They’re good – tough. But we just didn’t do anything right.”

Muller finished his postgame news conference by saying: “Sorry to waste your time tonight — unless you’re an Evansville fan.”

Next for the Aces is Saturday’s BracketBusters game at Wright State, which has won four of its five games since the pairing against UE was announced. “Every game’s huge,” Simmons said. “They play in a great conference. I know they’re up towards the top in the league. Every game means so much if you want to play in the postseason. We have prepared every year just like this game was a conference game. It has the same type of meaning at this time of the year. Everybody’s scratching and clawing, and I think it’s a huge game for us.”

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