Here are some leftover notes, quotes and observations from Evansville’s victory Saturday over Missouri State. You can read my game story here.
1. The way Balentine set the scoring record was fitting.
The reason: Balentine played poorly at times and still scored 18 points. That’s what makes him a great scorer. Even on a night when his jump shot was off (and it has been for the last three games), Balentine still almost reached his 20-point average.
He was scoreless at halftime but got to the free-throw line and made 7 of 8. He was also opportunistic on getting inside for easy baskets, either on cuts into the lane or his own dribble-drives.
“It does feel great to get out of the way,” Balentine said of the record. “It’s been on my mind, and it shouldn’t have, but that’s something that’s hard to get off your mind. (My teammates) knew I had zero points at half, they knew what I needed coming into this game and they continued to look for me.”
Extra quotes on Balentine, from head coach Marty Simmons:
“Even though he didn’t score in the first half I thought he made some great plays, made some great passes,” Simmons said. “We didn’t finish well as a team, but I thought he made some great looks, was patient. Seemed like when they went to man-to-man, he shifted into another gear and was cutting at a high level. I know that everybody’s just excited for him.”
“(His teammates) set a lot of screens for him, they make a lot of passes, but at the end of the day he’s the one that has to put the ball in the basket. He sees multiple defenses, has since he got here – for sure, the last three years – and he just has a unique talent and ability to score the basketball.”
“College is a completely different game. You’ve got to step your game up, you’ve got to learn to play at a different pace, and that’s where I think D.J. deserves that credit. He was a really good scorer in high school but he’s probably been an even better scorer at this level and you’ve got to really work at it to do that.”
Balentine, on passing former teammate Colt Ryan, who was a senior when Balentine was a freshman: “We have a great relationship. We talk here and there when we can. It means a lot to pass him because when I first got here he taught me how this thing works — how I move, how I act, bring it every day in practice because it will translate to the game. To pass him is a great feeling.”
2. Balentine’s record day overshadowed a career-high performance from Jaylon Brown.
Brown was partially responsible with forcing the Bears to switch out of their zone defense. MSU laid off the 6-foot guard and he made them pay by burying perimeter jump shots.
Brown finished 6-for-11 from the field and 3-for-5 from 3-point range in scoring 19 points.
“It’s really just playing off of what they do on defense. Coach always tells me to be aggressive,” Brown said.
Simmons could be heard on the sidelines urging Brown to push the ball at every opportunity. That attacking mindset seemed to carry over to the half-court offense.
“They’re hard to guard for us,” MSU coach Paul Lusk said. “We did a pretty good job on them defensively the first time with our zone. They exposed us today. Give Jaylon Brown credit; he hit some shots early and he’s really improved. He’s a great player.”
3. Christian Benzon and Willie Wiley again proved valuable off the bench.
Benzon has gotten more minutes behind Jaylon Brown in the last four games and Willie Wiley appears to have solidified himself as Egidijus Mockevicius’ top backup at center.
Benzon had four points in nine minutes Saturday and Wiley tied his season-high with eight points in 15 minutes.
“He’s gotten more playing time and anytime you get more playing time you get more confident,” Balentine said of Wiley. “He’s doing a great job giving Egidijus well-deserved rest minutes, which he needs.”