Evansville Aces (11-7, 4-2) at Indiana State Sycamores (11-6, 4-2)
Missouri Valley Conference Game 7/18
Game Time: 7:05 p.m. Saturday
Location: Hulman Center in Terre Haute, Ind.
Broadcast: WUEV 91.5 FM, ESPN3.com
Live Coverage: Follow on Twitter (@ECP_Lintner)
Spread: Indiana State -4 at Vegas Insider
UE’s Probable Starters: G Troy Taylor, G Ned Cox, F Colt Ryan, F Lewis Jones, C Egidijus Mockevicius
Indiana State’s Probable Starters: G Jake Odum, G Devonte Brown, F Manny Arop, F RJ Mahurin, C Justin Gant
Last Meeting: Wearing orange jerseys, UE fell to Indiana State 90-81 in a double-overtime game Jan. 29 at the Ford Center.
Series History: The Sycamores have a 80-76 edge in the all-time series and are 49-26 when playing the Aces on their home floor as Indiana State will Saturday.
Jan. 18: UE looks to leapfrog Indiana State in MVC standings
Jan. 17: Aces looking for more patience, better shot opportunities
Jan. 16: Drake downs UE on the road, ending Aces’ winning streak
Jan. 16: Sycamores out-score Missouri State in second half of win
—Indiana State enters Saturday 49th in the NCAA’s ratings percentage index, behind just Creighton (18th) and Wichita State (22nd) in the MVC. The Sycamores own the league’s best RPI win, which came over then-No. 4 Miami at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii.
—Against Indiana State, UE senior Colt Ryan is looking for his fifth-consecutive 20-point outing. It’s something even the decorated forward hasn’t done yet before in his career. Ryan is averaging 22.3 points in MVC play during a league-high 36.5 minutes per game.
—UE senior Troy Taylor’s 9.3 rebounds per game in MVC contests are second among all players in league play behind just Illinois State’s senior big man, Jackie Carmichael, who averages 10.8 boards.
—With 22 assists and six turnovers in MVC games, UE senior Ned Cox’s 3.7 assist-to-turnover ratio leads the league.
—While D.J. Balentine had scored just six points in five previous games, the freshman bounced back to tally eight in UE’s win over Wichita State and 13 in Wednesday’s loss to Drake.
—After averaging 15 minutes in non-conference games, UE freshman Egidijus Mockevicius now sees the floor for more than 19. Mockevicius’ top outing came Jan. 2 against Missouri State, when he tallied a game-high 18 points on 6 of 6 shooting.
—As a team, UE has hit 83.5 percent of its free throws in MVC play. The Aces connected on 101 of their last 120 foul shots.
—UE is 9-0 when it leads with five minutes to play, but the Aces have come back to win in that time span just once: Nov. 17 against Western Illinois, when it was 42-40 Leathernecks before a 3-pointer by sophomore Jordan Jahr with 2:39 left served as the Aces’ go-ahead bucket.
—Indiana State is 9-1 this season when holding opponents to 63 points or less and 8-1 when it hits at least 36.4 percent of 3-point shots.
—The Sycamores have a knack for getting to the free throw line. Indiana State has made 113 free throws in six MVC games, more than all other league members have even attempted except for Southern Illinois (125) and UE (121).
UE coach Marty Simmons on what Saturday’s game means: “It’s a good conference race. It’s Indiana State, and that’s always been a good rivalry for us. They’re someone we have a lot of respect for…They’ve got a really good coach, good players, and the Hulman Center is a neat place to play. We’re coming off a tough loss. I think our guys – they’re just eager to get back out there and compete.”
With a win and Wichita State loss, UE could return to second in the MVC standings. “It’s every day in practice that we talk about winning a championship,” said Aces freshman D.J. Balentine. “Coach always tells us, ‘You guys have a great opportunity here. You’ve created an opportunity for yourselves to do something special that the university hasn’t done for a while.’ That’s really our main focus – to win a conference championship.”
Simmons on practice carrying over to games: “You’ve just got to be careful with that. You’re not going to practice well every day. I think there’s the ability to be disciplined, concentrate and really understand your assignments, and there’s going to be days where you’re not making shots or executing but can still get ready to play and compete. I think it certainly helps when you come in and you’re practicing well – practicing hard – and the energy is high. But I don’t want to give the impression that if you don’t practice well, you can’t win the game because I know you can and we have.”
Simmons on defending Indiana State’s leading scorer, guard Jake Odum: “The main thing with him – and it’s not an easy thing – is just staying between him and the basket. They’re crafty off their ball screens, and he’s got a quick first step. So it’s important to be super disciplined with that assignment.”
Odum measures at 6-foot-4, taller than any of UE’s guards: “They’re just a lot bigger team guard-wise,” Balentine said. “They’re fast, and all of them can dribble well. They run an offense where they hand off and kind of blue to the middle. It’ll be tough to handle, but in practice we’re going to talk about it a lot – how to guard it.”
The Sycamores also welcome a key newcomer, Gonzaga transfer Manny Arop, who’s their second-leading scorer. “He’s brought a ton of energy, it looks like to me,” Simmons said. “He’s built like (former UE player) Shy Ely. His body type and really the way he plays – he shoots 3s, gets in the post, is a slasher, can score in transition, very long and athletic. But he seems to be a guy who loves to play and enjoys being out there competing.”
UE sophomore Jordan Jahr on coming off the Drake loss: “I think we know who we are, and I think we can play with anybody. We just have to bring our ‘A game’ to the table to get wins in the Missouri Valley, and on Wednesday we didn’t do that. We need to do it from here on out.”
Outlook: This is a big one — not just because they all are in MVC play — but due to the way UE performed against Drake and why the Aces said they did so. That’s practice. Given another two days to prepare for Indiana State, UE needs to play focused this time around with a potential return to second-place standing in the MVC at stake.