The Morning After: Indiana State-UE

Colt Ryan went out Saturday with another memorable performance at the Ford Center: 31 points, eight assists and five rebounds.

Stories from UE’s 84-68 senior day win over Indiana State, the Aces’ fourth straight to finish the regular season:

—Courier & Press: Ryan scores 31 to end senior day with cheers, tears
—Terre Haute Tribune-Star: Sycamores unable to find defense at UE
—UE student Bryce Weiler: Aces close regular season in style

Some observations:

—It’s one thing to talk about having a sense of urgency while seeing a senior season wind down. It’s another thing to actually act on it effectively as UE forward Colt Ryan has. We’ll remember for a long time what Ryan’s done down the stretch, especially the last four games — all Aces wins. After scoring 31 points against Indiana State, Ryan leads all Missouri Valley Conference scorers with 25.6 points per game in games since Feb. 1. His performances are more than stats. There’s a certain intensity Ryan’s played with, living and dying with every shot and call because now his college career really does depend on it. The Aces will surely play in some sort of postseason tournament, but Arch Madness is wide open. Why not make it one that starts with an ‘N’ rather than a ‘C’ this year? That’s Ryan’s thinking, as he finished talking Saturday by saying, “We’re not done.”

—All in all, UE seems to have a favorable draw in the conference tournament bracket. Indiana State. having lost five of six, is working through its worst stretch of the season and some adversity with second-leading scorer Manny Arop indefinitely suspended. Creighton appeared its old self on Saturday while defeating Wichita State, but a matchup against the Bluejays, who have appeared beatable the last month, may be better than having to defeat the Shockers a third time. And on the other side, perhaps someone else will knock off Wichita State before Sunday’s championship game should UE make it that far. Either way, as Bradley beat writer Dave Reynolds pointed out today, expect that anything can happen. This MVC season featured quite a bit of parity, as the league champion lost five games for the third time in 105 years and the last-place team finished with six wins for the second time in conference history.

—All season, UE’s played with one of the MVC’s best assist-to-turnover ratios (and leads the league right now at 1.5). A sign that the Aces have learned their roles all the way down the bench may be freshman D.J. Balentine’s line from Saturday. He scored six points but also tallied a career-high seven assists and no turnovers. Add that to eight assists by Ryan and seven from Cox in his first game back from a foot injury, and it results in the Aces assisting on 26 of 31 made baskets against the Sycamores. That’s efficiency that’s hard to defense. It’s no wonder the Aces shot 54.4 percent from the field for the game, and they pulled away thanks to hitting 17 of 23 free throws. Believe UE’s players and coaches when they say they Aces are playing their best basketball right now.

—Saturday was my first time at an Aces senior day. Compared to all the others I’ve witnessed, UE does it best in letting each player have his time to speak after the game. Would I think differently had that been a 7 p.m. game and pushing deadline? Maybe. But you have to respect how the university handles its sendoff. UE is a different place in that it has such a small enrollment but a supportive fan base — mostly the local community rather than a reliance on student attendance. Despite being a private school, it is the city’s team and players. Just how into the speeches UE’s six seniors and fans got on Saturday evidenced that.

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