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Basic info: MVC Tournament quarterfinals, No. 4 seed Illinois State (19-11, 11-7) vs. No. 5 seed Evansville (19-11, 9-9), Friday 2:35 p.m at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

Preview story: Aces embracing tougher mindset entering MVC tournament

TV/Radio: Fox Sports Midwest; WUEV 91.5 FM

Previous meetings: Illinois State routed the Aces in early February. The Redbirds also edged UE Saturday in overtime.

 

PROBABLE STARTERS

Illinois State: Paris Lee (5-11, So., G, 6.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg); DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell (6-5, Jr., G, 13.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg); Daishon Knight (6-1, Sr., G, 13.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg); Reggie Lynch (6-10, So., C, 9.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg); Deontae Hawkins (6-8, Fr., F, 7.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg).

Evansville: Jaylon Brown (6-0, So., G, 4.9 ppg, 1.9 rpg); D.J. Balentine (6-2, Jr., G, 19.0 ppg, 3.1 apg); Blake Simmons (6-5, So., G/F, 7.4 ppg, 1.9 rpg); Adam Wing (6-4, Jr., F, 7.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg); Egidijus Mockevicius (6-10, Jr., C, 12.0 ppg, 9.9 rpg).

——

KEYS FOR EVANSVILLE

1. Get Lynch in foul trouble.

The MVC’s blocks leader at 2.7 per game, Lynch goes after most shots in his vicinity. That’s what makes him great, but it’s also what makes him prone to foul trouble by biting on pump fakes. If the Aces can limit Lynch’s minutes, or at least his aggressiveness, because of foul trouble, UE will have a much better chance to win.

2. Neutralize ISU’s athletic advantage.

The Redbirds are one of the most athletic teams in the MVC and are, in general, bigger and more mobile than Evansville’s players. The Aces will need to be sharp with their ballhandling and positioning to avoid letting an athletically superior opponent overwhelm them on the glass and with pressure defense.

UE turnovers led to ISU’s rout the first time these teams met, and a large advantage on the boards helped the Redbirds complete the regular-season sweep on Saturday.

3. Find some balance.

To beat a solid Illinois State team, the Aces will need their all-conference players (Balentine and Mockevicius) to play well and at least one other player to exceed his average. That could be Blake Simmons finally breaking his outside shooting slump, Jaylon Brown or Duane Gibson having one of their occasional scoring outbursts or Adam Wing or Mislav Brzoja providing some points from the forward position.

KEYS FOR ILLINOIS STATE

1. Exploit its athleticism.

Pretty much the reverse of what I said above. Illinois State is the more athletic team, so the Redbirds should attack the backboards with abandon and try to pressure UE into some turnovers. The Aces have been inconsistent with their ballhandling at times this season.

2. Get Akoon-Purcell going.

Knight is ISU’s leading scorer, but Akoon-Purcell has been the Redbirds’ best player lately. A 6-5 player who can shoot the 3 and drive, he could be a matchup problem for UE.

Akoon-Purcell was named the MVC Newcomer of the Year earlier this week and led ISU with 16 points and nine rebounds in Saturday’s win at UE.

3. Don’t look past Evansville.

There is the old adage that it is difficult to beat a team three times in the same season, and that’s exactly what ISU is looking to do Friday. Also, some are mentioning the Redbirds as the most likely to make a run at the tournament’s top two teams (No. 8 Wichita State and No. 11 Northern Iowa).

ISU will have to manage those expectations and focus on the quarterfinal with UE before worrying about a possible Saturday semifinal with Wichita State.

——

Predictions: Illinois State is favored by 4 1/2 points. Ken Pomeroy predicts a 68-63 ISU win and gives the Redbirds a 69 percent chance of victory.

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Here are some leftover thoughts and quotes on Illinois State’s overtime victory over Evansville on Saturday (you can read my game story here).

—— Along with being a close, back-and-forth game in the final minutes, the contest was even more intriguing knowing that the teams would match up in Friday’s Missouri Valley Conference tournament quarterfinals. Illinois State (19-11, 11-7) earned the No. 4 seed while Evansville (19-11, 9-9) is the No. 5.

—— Evansville coach Marty Simmons offered his normal postgame analysis after a loss, but at least he acknowledged it was a recycled response.

“It just sounds like a broken record,” he said. “We just made too many mistakes, and until we commit to doing what’s set up — whether it’s game plan, whether it’s timeouts, whether it’s first half, second half, end of the game — your ability to listen and execute, it’s hurt us numerous times this year.”

When asked for a specific moment or even whether he was referring to offense or defense, Simmons said, “All of the above.”

He did say later in the interview that UE botched the defensive coverage on DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell in the final seconds of regulation. Evansville’s 6-foot-10 center, Egidijus Mockevicius, got caught covering the 6-5 Akoon-Purcell after a switch and Akoon-Purcell blew right by him to score a layup and send the game into overtime.

“That’s not what we talked about in the timeout,” Simmons said.

—— Evansville guard D.J. Balentine scored 18 of his game-high 22 in the second half before Illinois State went to a 2-3 zone. That switch slowed down Balentine, but UE’s Adam Wing did a nice job looking to score in the middle of the zone.

Wing canned a midrange jump shot with 1:41 remaining in regulation and then drew a foul on Reggie Lynch and sank both free throws with 12.6 seconds left, putting UE up 61-59 before Akoon-Purcell’s layup sent it into OT.

“We knew the middle was going to be wide open,” Wing said. “The guards did a good job of ball-faking and getting me the ball in there. I was able to knock down a jumper in regulation there and able to get some fouls drawn on them. I was just trying to be ultra-aggressive in the middle of the zone.”

Said ISU coach Dan Muller: “I don’t think (Balentine) scored after we went zone. We just got undisciplined in the middle and we kept fouling Wing. That’s not an easy guard for our (centers) but the zone was really good other than that. But we had no choice; we had to go to it because we couldn’t stop Balentine.”

Said Simmons: “When we executed and got the ball in the interior of the zone, good things happened. That’s just a battle of wills. They’re not wanting it in there, we certainly do want it in there.”

—— With the zone shading toward Balentine, UE sophomore Mislav Brzoja stepped up and buried a big 3-pointer with 33 seconds left in overtime to tie the game before Daishon Knight’s game-winner. Brzoja’s 3 happened right in front of me, and I could almost see Brzoja considering the shot the first time he caught the ball on the left wing. Instead, he swung it back to the top of the key, reset his feet and let it fly the next time he caught it.

It was a sure stroke for a player who had missed his only two previous 3-point attempts of the game.

“It was a big shot,” Balentine said. “He should’ve shot the first time he was open, but he has a lot of confidence. He’s a very confident player and he can hit those shots there.”

Statistical oddity:  Illinois State outrebounded UE 49-31 overall and 21-10 on the offensive glass, yet the teams each recorded 10 second-chance points.

“It was a great rebounding night but if we convert some of those we have less offensive rebounds and more points, and that’s what we need,” Muller said.

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Paris Lee buried two 3-pointers and scored eight points to lead Illinois State to a 31-27 halftime lead over Evansville on Saturday at the Ford Center.

The Redbirds went on a 14-2 run early in the half and kept the lead until the intermission. Neither team shot well from the field, with Evansville going 10 of 30 (33.3 percent) and Illinois State finishing 12 of 31 (38.7 percent).

Adam Wing and Jaylon Moore scored six points apiece for UE, which outscored Illinois State 7-4 from the foul line.

Four Illinois State players, including starters Reggie Lynch and Deontae Hawkins, picked up two fouls. Evansville point guards Duane Gibson and Jaylon Brown also committed two fouls in the opening half.

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Basic info: Illinois State (18-11, 10-7 MVC) at Evansville (19-10, 9-8), 1 p.m. Saturday at Ford Center

Preview story: Moore to be honored on Senior Day as Aces host Illinois State

TV/Radio: Fox Sports Indiana; WUEV 91.5 FM

 

PROBABLE STARTERS

Illinois State: Paris Lee (5-11, So., G, 6.6 ppg, 2.4 rpg); Daishon Knight (6-1, Sr., G, 14.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg); Reggie Lynch (6-10, So., C, 9.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg); Deontae Hawkins (6-8, Fr., F, 7.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg); DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell (6-5, Jr., G, 12.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg).

Evansville: D.J. Balentine (6-2, Jr., G, 18.9 ppg, 3.2 apg); Jaylon Brown (6-0, So., G, 4.8 ppg, 2.4 apg); Blake Simmons (6-5, So., G/F, 7.5 ppg, 1.8 rpg); Adam Wing (6-4, Jr., F, 6.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg); Egidijus Mockevicius (6-10, Jr., C, 12.3 ppg, 10.0 rpg).

——

Last meeting: Illinois State tied a school record with 10 blocks and beat UE 77-51, the Aces’ biggest loss of the season.

MVC tournament scenarios: There is a strong chance these teams will meet again in the No. 4 vs. No. 5 game of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament on Friday. Evansville is locked into either the fourth or fifth spot, and the only way Illinois State can jump to No. 3 is if the Redbirds win today and Indiana State loses at Bradley. That scenario would put the Sycamores and Evansville in the 4-5 game.

Noting Illinois State: The Rebirds have won three straight games: a victory at Bradley followed by home wins over Loyola and Southern Illinois. … Lynch averages an MVC-leading 2.8 blocks per game and already ranks No. 2 on the Redbirds’ all-time block list as a sophomore. He had five swats in the matchup with Evansville earlier this season. … Paris Lee owns the Redbirds’ single-season steals record at 72. He averages 2.6 steals per game, also the best in school history.

Noting Evansville: Under Marty Simmons, the Aces have won their last six regular-season home finales. … Simmons is off to his best coaching start at UE at 19-10. With a win Saturday, the Aces will have 20 wins in the regular season for the first time since 1998-99. … The Aces have attempted 338 3-pointers this season, ranking 345th out of 351 Division I programs. Opponents are outscoring UE by 6.6 points per game from beyond the arc, but UE outpaces opponents in points in the paint by eight per game. … Evansville is shooting 50.3 percent from the field in home games this season.

——

Predictions: Evansville is favored by one point. Ken Pomeroy predicts a 67-66 Illinois State win and gives the Redbirds a 54 percent chance of victory.

Posted by & filed under Men's Basketball, Recruiting.

University of Evansville men’s basketball coach Marty Simmons on Thursday denied offering any additional scholarships to Class of 2015 prospects.

“The only guy we’ve offered has accepted and signed,” Simmons said. “That’s Harris Brown.”

Jamie Shaw with Phenom Hoop Report reported Wednesday on Twitter that Tim Clay, a senior point guard from Alamance Christian School (North Carolina), has received scholarship offers from the University of Evansville and Southern Indiana.

That post led to some speculation that UE was looking to sign another player to its 2015 class, which would mean a current non-senior would have to leave the program or give up his scholarship. Jaylon Moore is the only Ace who will exhaust his eligibility in the coming weeks, and the Aces have already signed Brown — a combo guard from Indianapolis Howe — to fill that scholarship.

The fact that Clay himself retweeted Shaw’s initial post lends some validity (if not absurdity) to the situation.

College coaches aren’t allowed to comment on specific players until they sign with a school but can speak generally about recruiting. Simmons said his staff continues to monitor prospects from every class.

“You’re always recruiting juniors, sophomores, seniors,” Simmons said. “You’re always recruiting and that’s just to stay in the game. You never know what tomorrow brings.”

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It surfaced Wednesday on Twitter that the University of Evansville and Southern Indiana have reportedly extended scholarship offers to Tim Clay, a 6-foot-1 senior point guard from Alamance Christian Academy in Graham, North Carolina.

According to his Verbal Commits page, Clay already holds Division I offers from Wagner, Wright State, South Carolina Upstate and Bryant.

Evansville senior Jaylon Moore is the only Aces player who will exhaust his eligibility at the end of this season and the Aces have already signed Indianapolis Howe combo guard Harris Brown in the Class of 2015. It is uncommon, but not unheard of, for programs to oversign to guard against transfers, players pursuing professional opportunities or other forms of attrition. If Evansville is indeed actively recruiting the 2015 class, it could be a sign that the coaching staff expects a player to leave or one to be removed from his scholarship.

(NOTE: I will ask UE coach Marty Simmons about whether the Aces are still pursuing Class of 2015 prospects and provide an update on this blog and/or the print edition of the Courier & Press).

Also on Wednesday night, Indianapolis Howe High School head coach Mosi Barnes said UE is among several schools interested in junior point guard Brian Warren. The 6-foot left-hander averages 19.4 points, 5.9 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 3.3 steals for Howe, which is ranked No. 2 in Class 2A.

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The University of Evansville men’s basketball team is at its best when perimeter players other than junior guard D.J. Balentine contribute in the scoring column.

This explains why the Aces looked so hapless Sunday against No. 11 Wichita State, which limited Evansville to 31 percent shooting in a 62-43 win. Mislav Brzoja, Blake Simmons and Adam Wing — who rank third through fifth, respectively, in scoring for UE — combined to go 0-for-7 from 3-point range and score nine points.

Simmons has hit only one of his last 15 3-point attempts and Brzoja and Wing finished Sunday’s game a combined 1 of 13 from the field. Evansville needs at least two of these players to play well at any given time to have any chance of advancing deep into the Missouri Valley Conference tournament next weekend in St. Louis.

“We’re confident in those guys; they’ve made (shots) before and they’ll make them again,” Evansville coach Marty Simmons said. “But I think a lot of it is just staying with the offense. If we’re taking good shots, then my belief is those guys are gonna make them.”

When the Aces have only Balentine and center Egidijus Mockevicius to lean on offensively, opponents can load their defense to shut down Balentine, keeping multiple defenders in his area.

This is particularly the case against MVC teams, which are more familiar with the Aces’ motion offense and personnel.

Balentine entered conference play averaging 22.5 points per game and has scored 16.4 per game in Valley contests.

“I always put the blame on myself as well, and coaches tell me ‘What more can I do? How much harder can I work to get open?’” Balentine said. “At points it does get frustrating, but then I understand where we’re coming from. I understand when guys do hit shots and others are scoring it’s harder to guard just me. Every defensive game plan has been surrounded by me, but I’m ready and excited for the challenge.”

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I’m switching the format this time for my day-after post, but the goal is still to provide additional information and quotes not contained in my game story (which you can read here).

Turning point(s): A major run in each half gave the Aces all the separation they needed. In the first half, UE scored on seven straight trips down the floor to turn a 14-14 game into a 25-16 lead. The 11-2 run began midway through the half and spanned 4:23 of game time.

In the second half, the Aces rattled off a 15-2 run after Drake took its first lead of the second half. Adam Wing began the run with a jump hook with 11:30 remaining and D.J. Balentine ended it with a three-point play five minutes later. The Aces led 52-41 after that stretch and Drake never came closer than six afterward.

Wing had six points during that second-half spurt, while Balentine scored five points and Egidijus Mockevicius four.

Top performers: Balentine is an obvious choice with his game-high 24 points, but UE’s Jaylon Brown also deserves a nod. The 6-foot point guard recorded eight points, all on free throws, while dishing out a team-high five assists. Brown also combined with Duane Gibson to limit Drake’s leading scorer, Reed Timmer, to four points. Timmer, who had 18 points against the Aces Jan. 31 in Des Moines, didn’t score for the first 17:31.

For Drake, 7-footer Jacob Enevold was the biggest standout. He got the best of Mockevicius for much of the night, posting 12 points and seven rebounds.

Extra quotes:

UE coach Marty Simmons, on Balentine’s scoring night: “He had a good variety. He shot some 3s, he got the midrange jumper, he was able to get to the free-throw line seven times. He and his teammates, I thought, did a pretty good job of reading the defense.”

Balentine, on getting his jump shot going early in the game: “When you can hit the outside jumpers, it’ll free your inside game up a lot. My teammates and coaches, they do a great job of setting me up in spots where I can hit the jump shot.”

Drake coach Ray Giacoletti, on trying to sustain offense: “When we put some lineups out there to try to be better defensively, a couple of them don’t shoot the ball well.”

Balentine, on UE limiting Timmer to four points: “We took his left hand away. He’s a really good player going left, and I think (Brown) and (Gibson) did a fantastic job on him.”

Wing, on the importance of the win for UE: “We knew we needed to win this game, especially with our schedule coming up.” The Aces close the season at No. 13 Wichita State, at No. 11 Northern Iowa and at home against Illinois State.

Simmons, on the development of the Aces. UE has followed a three-game losing streak with a three-game winning streak: “We know we’re going to have to be better when we go to Wichita Sunday, I think everybody knows that. But I’m proud of the way the guys hung in. After the Bradley loss, to be able to string three wins in a row like this is a credit to the guys in the locker room.”

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D.J. Balentine poured in 14 points to lead the University of Evansville men’s basketball team to a 30-23 halftime lead over Drake on Tuesday at the Ford Center.

Balentine had 11 points less than eight minutes into the game and finished the half 6 of 8 from the field and 2 of 3 from 3-point range. All of his points came on jump shots.

Beginning midway through the half, the Aces scored on seven consecutive offensive trips to turn a 14-14 tie into a 25-16 advantage.

Mislav Brzoja scored six points for UE and Blake Simmons added four.

Ore Arogundade led Drake with five points, while three of his teammates tallied four points each. The Bulldogs shot 36 percent from the floor compared to Evansville’s 60 percent.

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Basic info: Drake (8-18, 5-9 MVC) at Evansville (18-8, 8-6), 7:05 p.m. Tuesday at the Ford Center

Preview story: Aces seek better effort in rematch with Drake

Radio: WUEV 91.5 FM

 

PROBABLE STARTERS

Drake: Karl Madison (5-11, Sr., G, 2.5 ppg, 2.2 apg); Gary Ricks (6-1, Sr., G, 10.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg); Trevor Berkeley (5.1 ppg, 2.8 rpg); Jacob Enevold (7-0, So., 7.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg); Reed Timmer (6-1, Fr., G, 11.1 ppg, 2.4 apg).

Evansville: Jaylon Brown (6-0, So., G, 4.8 ppg, 2.4 apg); D.J. Balentine (6-2, Jr., G, 19.2 ppg, 3.3 apg); Blake Simmons (6-5, So., G/F, 7.7 ppg, 2.3 apg); Egidijus Mockevicius (6-10, Jr., C, 12.4 ppg, 10.3 rpg).

——

Three key questions:

1. Who will win the inside battle?

Statistically, Evansville’s Egidijus Mockevicius is a much more productive player than Drake 7-footer Jacob Enevold, but the 251-pound Enevold is one of the few MVC player that can match Mockevicius’ size.

When the teams met on Jan. 31, both players finished with eight points, slightly above Enevold’s average and well below Mockevicius’. If the interior battle is neutral again or goes Drake’s way, that will go a long way toward a Bulldog upset.

2. Can the Aces slow down Timmer?

Drake’s freshman guard scored a team-high 18 points when Drake knocked off Evansville in Des Moines, and Timmer has averaged 14.3 points during his last three games. He is shooting 15 of 33 overall and 5 of 8 from 3-point range during that stretch.

Timmer is one of five Drake players who hit a 3-pointer the first time these teams met.

3. Will the Aces get another balanced offensive performance?

Evansville is coming off a strong offensive game against Southern Illinois. The Aces shot 56.3 percent in the 72-64 win, including 66.7 percent in the second half.

Five players scored in double figures, including three off the bench. The Aces are at their best when they get those across-the-board contributions rather than relying mostly on Balentine and Mockevicius.

——

Predictions: Evansville is a 10-point favorite. Ken Pomeroy predicts a 71-60 UE win and gives the Aces an 87 percent chance of victory.

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Leftover observations, notes and quotes from Evansville’s win at Southern Illinois on Saturday (you can read my game story here):

1. The Aces closed the game as impressively as they have all year.

UE has won a few close games this season, but rarely has it slammed the door shut on an opponent like it did Saturday. Most of the Aces’ close wins have come from building a big lead and barely hanging on, or making one more play down the stretch than their opponent.

On Saturday, the Aces made several more plays than the Salukis. UE held SIU without a field goal for the final 4:31. In fact, UE led by just four when SIU sank its last field goal — a layup by Sean O’Brien — but stretched the lead to 11 before winning comfortably.

“In the last eight minutes we didn’t turn it over … and that’s hard because they were really aggressive, really active,” Evansville coach Marty Simmons said. “They were applying pressure and they were switching, and it wasn’t easy. It was just good execution, for the most part, and guys just stepping up and making plays.”

2. UE’s dominant bench play came from just three players.

I mentioned UE’s outstanding bench play — Evansville’s reserves outscored SIU’s 39-9 — prominently in my story, but it’s worth revisiting what each player brought to the game.

Those 39 bench points all came from Mislav Brzoja (14), Jaylon Moore (13) and Duane Gibson (12). Evansville’s other bench players — David Howard, Christian Benzon and Taylor Stafford — didn’t attempt a shot in limited minutes.

Brzoja appears to have returned to the form he held before missing 2 1/2 weeks with a broken hand. He still plays with a wrap on the hand, but it clearly isn’t affecting him much. Brzoja made 5 of 7 shots, including both of his 3-point attempts, and also pulled down four rebounds and dished out three assists.

Moore was simply active around the basket, getting a tip-in and three dunks and being ready to score when his teammates found him.

And Gibson was selectively aggressive, attacking off the dribble when it was available and nailing a couple of pull-up jump shots when defenders gave him several feet of space (as they often do out of respect for Gibson’s driving ability and disrespect for his shooting ability).

“(Assistant) coach (Jimmy Elgas) is always on me, he has me in the gym every day working on my shot,” Gibson said. “He says, ‘Be ready and just have confidence and let it go.'”

Said Moore: “Coach says all the time to be ready when you come off the bench because anybody can make an impact. You just got to be ready and when you get in, go out there and make a difference.”

——

SIU coach Barry Hinson said Evansville’s second half was the best he has seen the Aces play all season. But Hinson also had several issues with the play of his own team. Here are some of his postgame quotes:

“I don’t think we had any energy or any enthusiasm to start the game. We got off to a 9-2 start, but that was all false, that was all fool’s gold. We just kept trying to get our guys going and going and going, and couldn’t get them jump-started.”

“You cannot turn the ball over 17 times and have four assists and beat anybody. It’s just impossible.”

“Their bench and our turnovers and our lack of execution defensively in the second half just nailed us.”

 

 

 

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CARBONDALE, Ill. — D.J. Balentine scored 10 points to lead the University of Evansville men’s basketball team to a 30-29 halftime lead over Southern Illinois on Saturday at SIU Arena.

The middle of the half included a six-minute stretch when neither team scored. Evansville eventually picked up the offense, putting together a 12-2 run to take a 28-22 lead.

Tyler Smithpeters led SIU with 10 points, including an off-balance 3-pointer before the halftime buzzer. Anthony Beane added eight points for the Salukis.

The teams combined for 17 turnovers. Evansville shot 45.8 percent from the field while SIU hit 34.6 percent. But the Salukis outrebounded UE 17-15, including 7-3 on the offensive glass.

Duane Gibson and Egidijus Mockevicius scored six points apiece for Evansville, each in only seven minutes. Mockevicius, Mislav Brzoja and Jaylon Moore each picked up two fouls for Evansville.