The Morning After: Indiana State-UE

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Via the Associated Press, a shot of the foul called on Egidijus Mockevicius that sent Justin Gant to the free throw line with 2.5 seconds left Friday.

Stories from UE’s 51-50 loss to Indiana State at the Missouri Valley Conference tournament:

—Courier & Press: Ryan held scoreless in second half as Indiana State downs UE
—Terre Haute Tribune-Star: Brown comes up with last-second block for Sycamores
—Tribune-Star: There’s no secret to Indiana State stopping Ryan

Some observations:

—Colt Ryan didn’t score in the second half. Troy Taylor missed two potential game-winning free throws. Ned Cox couldn’t get it done at the buzzer. And Lewis Jones wasn’t even on the court for the final 9:21. That’s not how UE’s outgoing seniors should be remembered, however — for one game. It’s much of why, after Friday’s loss, coach Marty Simmons wasn’t ready to talk about College Basketball Invitational or CollegeInsider.com Tournament possibilities. These guys deserve at least a few days of reflection now that there will be no NCAA tournament for Ryan, Cox, Taylor and Jones. This is a bunch that, as athletic director John Stanley said earlier this week, put UE “back on the competitive map.” Without those four, there’s likely no D.J. Balentine, Adam Wing or Egidijus Mockevicius coming back next year. Maybe there’s no new practice facility. And there’s certainly not 18 wins this season, Simmons’ best mark in six seasons at UE.

—Officiating was the hot topic following Friday’s game, another push-and-shove contest between the Aces and Sycamores. They always are with teams that bring the tough out in one another. There was the foul call on Egidijus Mockevicius with 2.5 seconds left (see photo above) — he definitely got a lot of ball, but how much body? And then there’s this moment captured by the Terre Haute paper of Cox’s last-second layup attempt — the contact came after the fact, and maybe after the buzzer. Simmons said following the game, when asked about the calls, “Yeah, I’m not going to touch that with a 10-foot pole.” Bottom line, these are referees who have all seen both teams play before this season. They’re guys the coaches know personally. And ones the league obviously trusts if hired to officiate the conference tournament.

—A rash of old problems — think back to UE’s conference drought of seven losses in 10 games — doomed the Aces when it counted most. They took shots early in the clock, went through scoring droughts and suffered one big defensive lull — a breakdown that resulted in a 12-3 Indiana State run and a double-digit deficit. It wasn’t the first time any of those problems surfaced for UE. But it was the first time in five games, as those woes seemed behind the Aces on a four-game winning streak and entering the postseason. The Indiana State run coincided with foul trouble for Mockevicius, which allowed 6-foot-10 Sycamores forward Jake Kitchell to hit three buckets during the run.

—UE’s ratings percentage index ranking dropped from 101 to 108 with the loss — not drastic, but that’s a number that likely keeps the Aces from getting an NIT bid. That leaves the CBI and CIT, and which of those the Aces play in could come down to money. As I understand it, the CBI is more expensive to host, as it comes with a guaranteed number of tickets sold for that school. Postseason tickets aren’t part of UE’s season ticket package, so the school would be on the hook for a large number of tickets to sell in a less than a week’s time. The CIT, meanwhile, is designed for mid-major programs and their budgets. It seems like a more probable destination at this point, but we’ll wait and see what unfolds. None of the postseaosn fields are officially unveiled until after the NCAA selection a week from Sunday.

—I saw all of one and a half games at the Scottrade Center — the second half of Creighton-Drake and UE’s loss. It’s quite an event for a mid-major tournament. All I have to compare to are a couple trips to the Sun Belt Conference tournament in Hot Springs, Ark., which truly doesn’t compare. Even more than what happens at the arena, the MVC has a great TV package to get every game on in potentially every household in America that has cable with Fox Sports stations or high-speed internet. As conference realignment rumors swirl, I can’t help but think how much adding Belmont and the Nashville market would help the MVC expand its reach. Belmont doesn’t fit the traditional MVC mold, but it’s a southern location that could grow the league’s footprint and add a quality basketball program more so than just about any other athletic department out there.

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