Evansville Aces (13-9, 6-4) at Missouri State Bears (6-16, 4-6)
Missouri Valley Conference Game 11/18
Game Time: 2:05 p.m. Saturday
Location: JHQ Arena in Springfield, Mo.
Broadcast: 91.5 WUEV
Spread: UE -3 at Vegas Insider
UE’s Probable Starters: G Troy Taylor, G Ned Cox, F Colt Ryan, F Lewis Jones, C Egidijus Mockevicius
Missouri State’s Probable Starters: G Anthony Downing, G Dorrian Williams, G Marcus Marshall, F Gavin Thurman, F Drew Wilson
Last Meeting: UE beat Missouri State 62-59 in overtime on Jan. 2 at the Ford Center.
Series History: Missouri State leads the all-time series 30-27 and is 18-8 when defending its home court. The Aces have won their last five games against the Bears, with three coming last season. It was just the second three-game season sweep of an MVC foe for UE, with the other coming against Wichita State in 1999.
Feb. 1: Nelson still looking for consistent shooting stroke
Feb. 1: Bears gear up for stretch run
Feb. 1: Jahr off the UE basketball team
Jan. 31: Creighton too much for Missouri State to handle
Jan. 30: Aces’ Ryan adjusting to more physical defenses
Jan. 29: With little offense, UE tops Northern Iowa anyway
—While UE is 5-0 in MVC home games and 11-2 overall at the Ford Center, the Aces are just 1-4 in conference road games heading into Saturday. The lone victory came Jan. 9 at Northern Iowa. UE has since lost three straight.
—In the teams’ first meeting this season, Missouri State rallied from a four-point deficit in the final 14 seconds to force overtime. UE never trailed in the extra session behind a career-high 18 points from freshman Egidijus Mockevicius and 19 rebounds by senior Troy Taylor.
—Senior Colt Ryan is on pace to become the 14th player in MVC history to eclipse 2,000 points. After scoring 23 in the Aces’ win over Northern Iowa on Tuesday, he’s at 1,943 career points.
—Against the Panthers, Mockevicius (13 rebounds) and Taylor (12 rebounds) became the first players to both grab 10 boards in the same game since Taylor and James Haarsma finished with 12 apiece in a 2009 win over SIU Edwardsville.
—Though Mockevicius is scoring 4.4 points per game on the season, he’s averaged 8.3 points a contest in UE’s last four. Mockevicius is also the MVC’s No. 4 shot blocker after recording a career-high six of them against Northern Iowa.
—UE’s offense has struggled in the last few weeks, but it seems defense keys wins. The Aces hold opponents to 43.4 percent shooting (and 31.7 percent from 3-point range) in MVC victories, while league foes make 48.1 percent of shots (and 45.7 percent of 3-pointers) in defeats.
—UE relies on experience, as the Aces’ four seniors combine to score 71 percent of the Aces’ points. Meanwhile, Missouri State is young. The Bears’ six freshmen account for 45.3 percent of the offense.
—Second-year coach Paul Lusk fields a roster that features a combined 10 years of college basketball experience (including NAIA and junior college) among its 12 players, easily making up the youngest team in the MVC and seventh-youngest in Division I.
—Since a Jan. 27 win over Drake, Lusk has started four freshmen: Gavin Thurman, Marcus Marshall, Dorrian Williams and Drew Wilson. Thurman has averaged 15.8 points in his last five games and earned MVC Newcomer of the Week honors.
—Missouri State’s only active senior, guard Anthony Downing, has scored in double figures 19 straight games at the Bears’ home JHQ Arena. Downing, who averages a team-high 14.5 points per game, scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds in his first game against UE this season.
—And you thought UE was stingy, sitting 25th in the nation with 11.4 turnovers per game. Ball security is perhaps Missouri State’s greatest strength. The Bears are tied for 11th at 10.9 turnovers a contest and forced 15 of 22 opponents this season into more of them.
UE coach Marty Simmons on his team playing road games: “We talk about just being focused, period, whether you’re at home or on the road. Obviously when you’re on the road, it’s just our 16 guys and coaches. You’ve got to be more together. You don’t have the home crowd when you’re down to get your adrenaline pumping a little bit. I think more than anything, it’s just that tough mentality that you’ve got to stay together for 40 minutes – that recognition in those spurts that we’ve talked about where we’ve got to get a stop, get a good shot, get a post touch, get to the free throw line. And then along with that is being able to execute and get what you want.”
Simmons talks Missouri State personnel: “They’re really playing well. They played well (Wednesday) night at Creighton. (Senior Anthony) Downing is really just a great player. In any league, on any team, he’s a great player. He can score in a lot of ways. He’s tough. He makes the guys around him better…The guy from the first game to where we’re at now is (freshman Gavin) Thurman. He’s really stepped it up. In the last five games he’s their leading scorer. Shooting a high percentage overall – high percentage from 3. He’s just a really talented guy who can spread you to the 3-point line but has the ability to score on you in the post. He’s just a really smooth, skilled, long, athletic player.”
Freshman D.J. Balentine on dealing with Missouri State’s motion offense: “They really just play hard. They don’t give up. They use the pick and rolls really well. Downing is good at coming off screens – curl cuts and tight cuts similar to what we do. He’s a senior leader on that team. They really just play well, and he’s a big reason for it.”
Sophomore Jordan Nelson said, however, that the Bears are more than a half court team: “They push the ball in transition defense quite a bit. That’s where they get most of their points. Then we need to keep them off the glass, because they get a lot of garbage points around the rim too.”
Nelson is an uncharacteristic 25 percent 3-point shooter this season. Twenty-three of his 28 attempts from the field were from beyond the arc. “I’m confident in him,” Simmons said. “I watch him every day in practice. He just probably hasn’t had long enough stretches in the course of the game. That’s a lot of pressure when you’re expected to come in there and score, but it doesn’t bother him a bit. I think he’s a very confident player. I think the next time he’s open, he’s going to have his gun loaded and let her fly. I think we’re all going to be very confident that it’s going in.”
Outlook: This game more than any other, UE can lean on its seniors against a youthful Missouri State team. Doesn’t matter who it is, though — even the overmatched Bears. The Aces just need a road win. They’re 2-7 away from the Ford Center and have lost three straight away from home in MVC play.