Bradley Braves (12-7, 4-3) at Evansville Aces (11-8, 4-3)
Missouri Valley Conference Game 8/18
Game Time: 7:05 p.m. Wednesday
Location: Ford Center
Broadcast: WUEV 91.5 FM
Live Coverage: Follow on Twitter (@ECP_Lintner)
Spread: UE -7.5 at Vegas Insider
UE’s Probable Starters: G Troy Taylor, G Ned Cox, F Colt Ryan, F Lewis Jones, C Egidijus Mockevicius
Bradley’s Probable Starters: G Walt Lemon Jr., G Dyricus Simms-Edwards, G/F Jake Eastman, F Tyshon Pickett, F/C Will Egolf
Last Meeting: UE blew out Bradley by a 92-62 score in Peoria, Ill., marking the Aces’ largest margin of victory in an MVC game all of last season.
Series History: The Braves own a 23-17 series edge, but UE’s taken 13 of 20 meetings played on its home court.
Jan. 22: Aces hope to finish better against Bradley
Jan. 22: Bradley has memories of folding to Aces
Jan. 20: UE wants more movement in its motion
Jan. 19: Aces go cold again in loss at Indiana State
Jan. 19: Lemon’s last-second 3 seals win for Bradley
—UE held double-digit leads in the first half of both losses to Drake and Indiana State last week before going on to lose by 10-plus points. The Aces made a combined 17 of 64 shots in the second half of those games, while opponents average better than 50 percent shooting against them in second halves.
—In line with that, UE senior Colt Ryan has overcome a pair of poor shooting efforts to still average 22 points in those losses. He hit just 10 of 30 shots but made 22 of 24 free throws against the Bulldogs and Sycamores, including 16 of 16 at Drake.
—UE senior Troy Taylor is often recognized for what he does outside of scoring the basketball, such as leading the Aces in both assists and rebounds despite a 6-foot frame. But Taylor, who had just career eight double-figure performances entering this season, has scored 10 or more points in four of UE’s last five games.
—Lewis Jones, another senior, is on the best scoring streak of his career, too. Jones is averaging 8.9 points per game in UE’s last seven contests, including a season-high 14 against Missouri State. Jones had scored in double figures just seven times before this season.
—In all, the Aces’ four seniors — Ryan, Taylor, Jones and Ned Cox — have combined to score 342 out of Evansville’s 481 points (71.1 percent) in MVC action this season.
—Bradley averages 10.8 steals a game and forces turnovers on 24 percent of opponents’ possessions — a sure test for a UE team that’s second in assist-to-turnover ratio in the MVC (+3.68) behind just the Braves (+4.42). Dyricus Simms-Edwards record 3.26 steals per game and Walt Lemon Jr. 2.26 to lead Bradley — a backcourt duo that combined ranks among the top 30 in Division I in steals.
—Last season, UE beat the Braves 90-67 at the Ford Center and 92-62 on the road, marking the first season sweep for the Aces over Bradley. It came in coach Geno Ford’s first season, when his team tallied just seven wins all year. Already with 12 victories, the turnaround is currently the fifth-most-improved of any team in Division I.
—Conference play has seen Bradley’s perimeter shooting improve (from 27.4 percent non-conference to 40 percent in MVC play) while the Braves’ interior shooting has declined (51.1 percent non-conference to 44 percent in MVC play).
—Part of that stat may be attributed to losing sixth-year senior Will Egolf for four games from Jan. 2-12 after the 6-foot-9 forward/center was arrested on drug charges. Egolf has since returned to score 11 points in both games against Southern Illinois and Missouri State.
UE coach Marty Simmons won’t use last season’s Bradley film while getting ready for Wednesday: “We’re preparing to play this year’s team. Even though they have some returning players, they’re a different team. They’re very hard-nosed. They play hard defensively and make it tough to score. They fight screens well, they show good help, and they do a great job of jumping to the basketball.”
Bradley coach Geno Ford on improvements from last season: “A year ago, Evansville beat us twice. I mean, it was almost 70 points combined in the two games. They beat us worse than anyone in the league except for maybe Wichita. It would have been close between those two. But we just didn’t have any toughness really in the program and didn’t have any mentality for that stuff. I think we’ve made some improvements, and it’s shown up in our wins and losses. But we’re not world beaters yet, so we’ve got to stick with the process of knowing where we’ve been and where we want to get to.”
Simmons on what went wrong against Drake and Indiana State: “I think more than anything, it was just attention to detail – paying attention to the little things that we at Evansville have to do to be successful as far as setting cuts up, screening, finishing cuts, delivering the ball to the open guy, staying with it – not a lot of standing. And I think defensively, just the same thing – some fundamental mistakes you can’t make. Really, in the second half of both games, our defensive intensity hasn’t stayed where it needs to for us to have success.”
UE senior Ned Cox on those losses: “We just have to finish. Both the Drake and Indiana State games, we started off and had a lot of energy. It dropped the remainder of the game – that energy lacked or died off a little bit – so we’ll just have to be able to come in and learn from that.”
Cox scouts Bradley: “They’re a really athletic team that drives the ball a lot. They have some shooters that are able to knock in shots off screens. We’ll just need to have a maximum team defensive effort to be able to stop them. Then on the offensive end, continue to run what we run – not get stagnant. Keep moving. Just run Evansville basketball.”
UE senior Troy Taylor said the Aces have a “sense of urgency” about turning around their season: “We have to clean it up. We’re not trying to go out as losers or anything like that. We want to go out as high as we can – as good as we can – and that’s real important because we haven’t made it to the (NCAA) tournament yet. That’s everybody’s goal. We have 11 regular-season games left or something like that, and we can flip it around – get on a roll. That’s very important, especially if we want to make it to the tournament because that’s obviously something everyone wants to do and that’s a goal for everybody.”
Outlook: Bradley insists its not the Bradley of last season. The Braves’ record agrees. This isn’t the squad that UE twice beat by 20-plus points, but rather one that’s flaunting toughness on the defensive end. This game will be another test for a struggling Aces offense that’s played stagnant in the second half of its last two losses.