Alabama State Hornets (1-7) at Evansville Purple Aces (5-4)
Game Time: 1:05 p.m. Saturday
Location: Ford Center
Broadcast: 91.5 WUEV, Aces TV
Live Coverage: Follow on Twitter (@ECP_Lintner)
UE’s probable starters: Troy Taylor, Ned Cox, Colt Ryan, Lewis Jones, Egidijus Mockevicius
Alabama State’s probable starters: Josh Freelove, Jamel Waters, Luther Page, Phillip Crawford, Shawntez Patterson
Series History: UE has won both meetings, most recently a 62-55 victory last season at the Ford Center. The teams’ other matchup came during the 2009-2010 season, when the Aces won 61-57 at Roberts Stadium.
Dec. 14: Looking for consistency, UE starting again at zero-zero
Dec. 14: Alabama State stronger with key scorers back
Dec. 13: Alabama State holds off Troy for first win
Dec. 12: Last season for ESPN’s BracketBusters
Dec. 12: Nelson still out of practice with injury
Dec. 10: Aces still trying to break out of .500 season rut
Dec. 10: Simmons goes ‘broken record’ on radio show
Dec. 8: Murray State races back to win over UE
—Alabama State won its first game of the season on Thursday night, a 74-68 victory over Troy in the teams’ second meeting this season. The Hornets led by as many as 20 points
—UE is 6-0 all-time against Southwestern Athletic Conference foes heading into Saturday, including a win earlier this season over Alabama A&M. None of Alabama State’s five starters from the Hornets’ game last season against UE are still on the team.
—Junior guard Josh Freelove leads Alabama State in scoring with 13.9 points per game. Redshirt senior forward Shawntez Patterson has played in just three games — the Hornets’ last three — and is averaging 11.3 points per game.
—Since returning from a hip pointer injury, senior Colt Ryan has averaged 16 points per game in four contests, leading UE in scoring twice. Freshman D.J. Balentine is the Aces’ leading scorer with 12.1 points per game.
—Senior Troy Taylor leads UE in rebounding, steals and assists while averaging 5.6 points per game. Taylor recorded his first double-double of the season against Murray State with 11 points and 12 boards.
—With a 16-point performance against Murray State last Saturday, senior Ned Cox has now reached double figures in seven of the Aces’ nine games this season. He’s second on the team in assists and steals behind Taylor.
—UE’s assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.46 is the best in the Missouri Valley Conference and ranks among the top 15 in Division I. The Aces have been credited with an assist on 64 percent of made baskets this season, also tops in the MVC.
UE coach Marty Simmons on a “Zero-zero. We’re starting over.” mentality in practices this week: “I think more than anything, I meant that we’ve got a couple guys who feel like they probably haven’t played as well as they wanted. I just wanted to clear their (minds), go back and free yourself up. Don’t think about what’s happened in the past. Let’s have a new start and see where things go…We’ve had our good moments, and we’ve had our not-so-good moments. Overall, our intensity level and the toughness we talk about is being better screeners. There’s a physicality in screening, blocking out and sweeping the basketball when you’re tightly guarded.”
Simmons on encouraging his team to be tougher: “We try to clearly define the things. We’re not going to fist fight. That’s not toughness in basketball. But there are areas – in the post, not letting them establish great position – there are specific areas in the game of basketball where we’ve got to give a little more effort, a little more physicality to if we’re going to improve.”
Simmons breaks down Alabama State: “We’ve played them in the past, so there’s a respect there. They play hard. They’re tough. They compete. And then they’ve added some personnel to their team the last two or three games that we feel has really given them a boost. They’re physical in the post. They’re physical on the glass defensively. They fight you hard on screens and cuts. They can drive the basketball. They can shoot the 3. They’re talented. They’ve got a lot of guys, and each of them can shoot it and drive it.”
Senior Ned Cox on UE’s three-plus week winter break: “This is definitely a big time for us to improve. This whole break is devoted to basketball, pretty much, so it should be a lot of guys’ focus right now. The times when we’re not in practice, guys can get in here and work on their own. This is a good time for this team to grow individually and collectively.”
Senior Colt Ryan on this week’s practices: “(Simmons) just wanted to spark competition, and that’s what it did. In practice we really got after it. We had drills set up where teams were evenly matched up, and he wanted to see who was going to step up…(Alabama State) will be a good test for us, because they are a very aggressive, get-after-it team. I think it will show where we hare – how much we really improved this week and how tough we got.”
Outlook: Another game against a SWAC opponent should mean another win for UE. But the Aces are looking for more. After a week of practice that was about increasing toughness, the Aces should look for a full, 40-minute effort, unlike in games last week where both Miami (Ohio) and Murray State shot better than 65 percent in the second half.