Evansville Purple Aces (9-6, 2-1) at Northern Iowa Panthers (8-7, 1-2)
Missouri Valley Conference Game 4/18
Game Time: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Location: McLeod Center in Cedar Falls, Iowa
Broadcast: WUEV 91.5 FM
Live Coverage: Follow on Twitter (@ECP_Lintner)
Spread: Northern Iowa -6 at Vegas Insider
UE’s Probable Starters: G Troy Taylor, G Ned Cox, F Colt Ryan, F Lewis Jones, C Egidijus Mockevicius
Northern Iowa’s Probable Starters: G Anthony James, G Marc Sonnen, F Jake Koch, F Seth Tuttle, C Austin Pehl
Last Meeting: UE won 63-62 at the Ford Center last Feb. 15.
Series History: UE owns a 21-19 all-time series edge over Northern Iowa, but the Aces are 6-12 in road games such as Wednesday’s. Before a victory at the McLeod Center last season, it had been since 2002 since UE last won in Cedar Falls.
Jan. 9: Aces prepared to battle tough UNI frontcourt
Jan. 8: Panthers know they must stop Colt Ryan
Jan. 7: Aces living up to their hot-shooting reputation
Jan. 6: Healthy Colt Ryan a dangerous one for UE’s opponents
Jan. 5: Aces rout Southern Illinois, move above .500 in MVC play
Jan. 5: UNI gets road win at Illinois State
—Aces senior Colt Ryan continues to score more since coming back from injury, with a season-high 26 points coming in UE’s win last weekend over Southern Illinois. Ryan has scored 13 or more points in all but one game since returning, the exception being the Aces’ game against Division II Oakland City.
—UE has improved its free throw shooting dramatically since non-conference play. The Aces have hit 43 of their last 49 attempts and hit 73.9 percent as a team, down just slightly from last season’s 76.4 percent. Leading the way (again) is Ryan, who’s eighth in the nation as a 91.8 percent shooter from the line.
—With 21 blocks already this season, UE freshman Egidijus Mockevicius has already passed last year’s team leader in swats, Kenny Harris, who had 19. Mockevicius is coming off a week in which he scored a career-high 18 points in the Aces’ overtime victory against Missouri State. He shoots a team-high 73.9 percent from the field.
—UE senior Troy Taylor, who leads the Aces with 7.5 rebounds per game, is within the top 200 rebounders in Division I and the shortest in that category. Fewer than 15 players listed as guards average more boards.
—Aces freshman D.J. Balentine scored 129 points in his first 11 collegiate games, averaging double figures. He at one point led UE in scoring. Balentine has tallied four total points in four games since.
—Six of Northern Iowa’s eight wins this season have come at home, with the lone loss by four points to Indiana State. UE averages 64 points in road games compared to 73.1 points at the Ford Center. The Aces are 1-5 in the McLeod Center.
—With 14 points against Missouri State and 11 versus Southern Illinois, senior Lewis Jones reached double figures in back-to-back games for the second time this season.
—Northern Iowa started all four of its seniors for the first time in the Panthers’ win over Illinois State last weekend. The latest addition to the lineup is big man Austin Pehl, who made his first start of the season.
—After averaging seven points in November, Northern Iowa senior Seth Tuttle has scored an average 14.3 points per game in December and January. Tuttle, the MVC Player of the Week, scored a career-high 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the Panthers’ loss to Indiana State last week.
—Northern Iowa averages 80.1 points in games it wins and 53.9 points in losses.
UE coach Marty Simmons on Northern Iowa’s style: “They’re always going to be as long as Ben’s (Jacobson) the coach a tough, tough matchup — veteran players who are tough, are smart. Their coaching staff does a good job of game planning and going at your weakness, so it’s always tough to play them anywhere. Doesn’t matter where you play them. They have tough-minded players who share the basketball, and they know how to win.”
Simmons on Northern Iowa’s offensive approach: “They’ve got several sets that they’ll run with counters to those sets where they’re trying to get guys with the ball in a certain position. If they feel like they’ve got the mismatch, so to speak, then they’re going to go to that.”
Simmons on freshman Egidijus Mockevicius preparing for that: “I think with all the different looks they can give you offensively, that’s going to be new. We’ve game planned for a lot of teams, but they’ll be as difficult as anyone we play against. Really with Egidijus, we try to keep it pretty simple, and he’s been a blessing to our team. He just gives us size, obviously he can block shots, and even when he’s not blocking shots, we feel like his presence is felt in there and guys aren’t attacking at the same level as maybe last year.”
Northern Iowa’s Ben Jacobson on the concentration in practice this week: “Our focus has been on the rebounding area, and that’s an area we’ve still got to get much better at. The other thing I’ve talked to the team quite a bit about is playing with a high level of competitiveness. In a basketball game with Evansville, those two things are going to be important. We’re going to have to compete at the highest level, we’re going to have to rebound the basketball, and it presents a real challenge with their defense. They’re going to do a good job of keeping that ball in front of them and do a good job of helping. They’re very physical with their defense. We’re going to have to find ways to combat that.”
Jacobson on what his team can learn on Wednesday: “Over the past number of seasons when we’ve played against each other, one of the things — or maybe the thing — that’s stood out when playing against Marty and his teams, is how hard they play, how competitive they are, and how much toughness they bring. If you’re able to match that the night that you play Evansville, that for me, our program, has been a good indicator of where our toughness and competitiveness are at. Wednesday, we’ll get that chance again.”
Simmons on playing at Northern Iowa, where the Aces have had little success: “Time will tell. Really, the approach we take – the mental approach – is just to try to get better every day and play the next game to the best of your ability whether it’s at home or on the road. Obviously, the camaraderie of the team up there because you’re not going to have a lot of fans – the togetherness factor and standing together for 40 minutes will the key.”
Outlook: The road hasn’t been kind to UE this season, and the McLeod Center hasn’t been kind to the Aces, well, ever. They’ve only won once in the building, using a 29-point second half by Colt Ryan last season for a comeback victory. This time around, UE will need to contain the Panthers — who start three players 6-foot-8 or taller — in the post.