UE’s 2012-2013 men’s basketball season came to an unceremonious end Saturday at East Carolina, by an 81-58 score in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament’s semifinal round.
So ended an Evansville CIT run that included wins over Tennessee State, Eastern Kentucky and Canisius before Saturday – all after a one-point defeat to Indiana State in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
Said coach Marty Simmons: “It’s not the NCAA tournament. It’s not the NIT. But it’s certainly been a lot of fun. The neat thing from me is, as disappointed as our team was after that Indiana State loss, the way they were able to rally and come back and play some pretty darn good basketball in three out of the four games is a credit to those guys in the locker room.”
UE finished 21-15, its best record since the 1998-1999 Aces won 21 games in an NCAA tournament season. “The mood in the locker room was kind of like a bittersweet deal,” said senior Troy Taylor. “You can’t dwell on this game too much because it’s done. We had a lot of success this season, which everybody’s proud of. These last couple weeks have been tremendous hanging out with these guys and everything.”
The Aces made just 21 of 66 attempts from the field, following up three CIT games in which they averaged 84.7 points per game with 31.8 percent shooting. “In the first half, when you’re having a hard time stopping guys because we didn’t do a very good job on the glass, you’ve got to be scoring with them,” Simmons said. “That’s something we’ve been doing in this tournament that we didn’t do tonight. You look at the first half. We missed a lot of open shots, especially against the zone, and we missed shots right at the rim. Give East Carolina credit there. We knew going in that they’re very athletic – very long. We knew they’d challenge shots at the rim. But we just seemed really timid at the basket, and I feel like we could have scored some there and confidence-wise stayed in it. Unfortunately, tonight we didn’t do it.”
UE senior Colt Ryan, the Aces’ all-time leading scorer, summed up his career after leading the team with 12 points Saturday: “I don’t think I could really do it justice or put it into words. There’s so many things that the Evansville community, the university, this program, the basketball team, my teammates have done for me. And I’m going to miss it. Being around such a great group of guys and great coaches – great mentors – and all the people I’ve met during the time here has been such a great ride.”
Ryan headed up a senior class that, as freshmen lost 21 games before winning 21 this season. “I was talking to Adam (Wing) about that earlier today,” Taylor said. “That’s my roommate. I was just telling him he came in on a good season. When we came in as freshmen, I told him we only won nine games but we got better every year. So if you come in on 21 wins and get better every year, the program will be through the roof.”
Simmons on the Aces’ six seniors — Ryan, Taylor, Ned Cox, Lewis Jones, Andy Chinn and Brandon Williams: “They’ve all been incredible. They came in that first year, and we struggled. They’ve had great attitudes, and they’ve continued to work and work. Even though we haven’t gotten to where we’re winning championships, we’ve certainly done some things here in the last three or four years that we hadn’t done here for a while. That’s a credit to those guys. That’s really a credit to our fans and our community support for these guys. I think it’s really neat how our community has embraced these seniors and our basketball team, especially in this tournament. You’re not going to find six guys that have given any more to their program – to their community – than our six seniors.”
Ryan also said he’ll also be watching how UE progresses in the future: “It’ll be fun to see what the underclassmen and the guys coming back do with it from here. We felt like we did a good job here in the CIT and made a run. It’s building the program. We had three postseason wins this year, and we hadn’t done that in a really long time here. Hopefully these underclassmen can take it farther.”
Simmons addressed the Aces’ returning players in the locker room after Saturday’s loss. “Everybody’s disappointed, but we’ve certainly got to get a lot tougher as we head into the offseason,” he said. “We had numerous, numerous charge opportunities tonight, and we just didn’t keep our bodies in there and take the blow to draw charges. That’s certainly something we’ve got to work on in the offseason. There were several times on the glass, instead of going after the ball with two hands, they were batting it and playing patty cake with it. Those are the things we’re challenging our young players with.
“When you play against a long, athletic team like East Carolina, you can’t match them with athleticism at every position. So how do you neutralize them? Well certainly toughness, skill, smarts, your ability to execute – those are areas where you have to be razor sharp. As we talked about earlier, we missed some shots at the basket. We missed some open 3s. We didn’t help in areas where we need to help. So we’ve got to learn from that as a basketball team and basketball program and use that as motivation as we head into the offseason.”