UE sent its seniors out in style Saturday with an 84-68 win over Indiana State at the Ford Center.
The Aces finished the regular season on a four-game winning streak and will head into this week’s Missouri Valley Conference tournament either the three or four seed.
Afterward, UE’s six seniors — Colt Ryan, Ned Cox, Troy Taylor, Lewis Jones, Andy Chinn and Brandon Williams — spoke in front of the announced crowd of 6,909 and a host of former Aces players.
Coach Marty Simmons on the experience: “Senior day is always a special day at the University of Evansville. These seniors have done so much for our program and for the community. It’s just a unique relationship that Evansville players have with our community – our fans. Seeing the former players come back and share that with them was pretty special. They’re great guys. At the end of the day, you kind of get lost in, ‘They’re basketball players.’ And when you see them get up in front of 7,000 people and start pouring their heart and soul out in appreciation of what everyone’s done for them, you see maybe another side. They’re just tremendous young men. I know as their coach, I’m very thankful I had the opportunity to coach them for four years.”
Ryan led the way with 31 points on 11 of 19 shooting. Simmons on Ryan’s day: “I think all the seniors (have stepped up). He’s obviously been super productive, but I think it’s the urgency of seeing it all coming to an end. You tell them when they’re freshmen it’s all going to go by so fast, and when you get down to the last few games, it’s like, ‘Wow.’ He’s a driven young man, as all the seniors are, and they seem to be as locked in right now as they have been.”
Cox played 23 minutes in his return from a foot injury suffered a week ago. “Nothing happened today that caused any caution or anything,” he said. “It was fine. I’m going to keep rehabbing as well as I can for the tournament.”
Sophomore Jordan Nelson scored a career-high 11 points — all of them in the first half — and Ryan Sawvell scored 10 of his 12 points in the second. “I think the other night was probably a big confidence lift for Nelson,” Simmons said. “The players have talked about it more than I have. He shoots the ball and is very difficult to guard in practice. At Wichita (State), he made a couple shots and I think that carried over into today. Ryan’s just really been working extremely hard. He understands that if he executes the help (defense), he can be a good finisher. He was very efficient offensively. I thought (D.J.) Balentine getting seven assists – no turnovers – Cox I think had seven assists. Colt has eight assists. That’s very unselfish, and that’s how we have to play to be successful.”
Ryan on the day: “It was a great experience for us – for our senior class – the way we won. Indiana State had beat us the last four or five times, I think, so we kind of addressed that and just wanted to get a win. It felt great.”
Taylor: “It’s going to be very memorable. This is a day I’ll never forget. I didn’t play much, but Jordan Nelson came in and hit some huge shots and had 11 points. One of the lines he kept saying was, ‘Give it your all. Do it for the seniors.’ And his actions showed that he wanted us to leave with a win. That was a theme today. Do it for the seniors. Like coach said, take all the selfish acts out and do it for the other guys.”
Cox on the most gratifying part of a strong finish to the season: “Just seeing how guys grow just from the freshmen coming in and how much they’ve developed and seeing how much the team overall has gelled and meshed. Overall, we’ve had our growing pains, but just to see us overcome that and be playing the kind of basketball we’re playing now is satisfying.”
Jones: “Pretty much coach talked about it all week. We have to play for the seniors. Including myself, we wanted to get it done and get a W…We’re playing our best basketball at the time we’re supposed to be playing our best basketball, which is March.”
By the way, the end of Ryan’s senior day speech, staring with him talking to teammates: “I appreciate all you guys have done for me. You’ve given up a lot for me, and I’ve tried to give as much up as I could for you guys. And we’re not done yet. I want to end on this. Tonight was a great night for us and for our program. What’s about to happen next week will be even better for this program. This team will be ready in St. Louis. I promise you that, and we want all of you to come and support us and cherish the moment with us that we’re about to have. Thank you, and God bless.”
Simmons’ thoughts on what Ryan had to say: “He’s a leader. He’s a confident guy, and that’s what you want. He knows we’re going to have to play extremely well. He knows we’re going to have to execute. He knows it’s not going to be easy. But he really believes in who he is as a basketball player, and he believes in his teammates. We’ve just got to have a good week of practice, go over there, and hopefully have a good finish to the year.”