Some leftover observations, notes and quotes from Evansville’s win over No. 23 Northern Iowa on Thursday. You can read my game story, view our photo gallery and see video comments from UE head coach Marty Simmons here.
First, some observations:
1. Evansville continues to be a strong second-half team.
The Aces outscored UNI 32-19 after halftime. UE has now outscored every opponent but Coppin State in the second half this season.
When I asked Simmons about this trend earlier in the season, he said he didn’t know what to attribute that to.
“We’d like to be a 40-minute team,” he said.
I think some locker-room adjustments — and an overall sense of urgency — have contributed to the Aces’ strong play in second halves this season. Most noticeably, the switch to 2-3 zone against Ohio and Alabama State allowed UE to turn those games around.
2. The Aces’ rotation tightened significantly in their first MVC game.
Four UE players played 35 or more minutes Thursday — Mislav Brzoja (35), Blake Simmons (37), Egidijus Mockevicius (37) and D.J. Balentine (39). Balentine may have played all 40 if he didn’t have to go to the bench briefly in the second half after taking a shot to his groin.
The absence of Adam Wing — who averaged 29 minutes per game before missing the past two contests with a strained quadriceps — is a major reason for that, but the Aces were able to play their regulars almost exclusively because they stayed out of foul trouble.
Christian Benzon is the main player receiving more minutes since Wing went down. He played 13 last night, contributing one point, two rebounds and a steal. Benzon holds his own on the defensive end and on the boards and can attack the basket, but is less of a shooting threat than Wing.
3. Evansville won the game on the glass.
Northern Iowa was the more efficient team — shooting 44.2 percent compared to Evansville’s 32.7 percent — but the Aces were the more aggressive team. UE outrebounded the Panthers 36-27, including 14-3 on the offensive boards. Evansville also held a 19-6 advantage in made free throws, some of which came off second-chance opportunities.
“On their home floor, to hold them in the low 30s (in field-goal percentage), we did a pretty good job,” UNI coach Ben Jacobson said. “We did not rebound well enough to finish it off.”
Mockevicius posted 12 points and 13 rebounds, including six on the offensive end.
“I didn’t do a good enough job of clearing (Mockevicius) from the lane,” said Northern Iowa forward Seth Tuttle, who had 18 points and five rebounds. “He ate us alive there for a little bit.”
Here are some more quotes that didn’t make it into my game story:
Tuttle, on the Aces’ improvement in the second half: “They did a good job amping their intensity and energy level. … They just stepped up their game and we weren’t able to answer that. We never really got our run going in the second half.”
Balentine, on how he got free more often in the second half, when he scored 13 of his team-high 17 points: “The coaches told me to keep cutting. … It’s tough to guard me cutting three or four times, and my teammates did a great job of finding me in spots where I could score.”
Jaylon Brown, on going 4-for-4 from the foul line in the closing seconds to clinch the win: “I had D.J. chatting in my ear and I knew I had to knock ‘em down. I took my time.”
Marty Simmons, on the flow of the game: “We were really stagnant in the first half; we weren’t cutting, we weren’t screening. They’re a terrific defensive team. I thought we had a little better movement, a little better execution in the second half. They’re a gritty team, and I thought our guys showed some grit.”
Simmons, on Evansville struggling to score in the first half: “They (the Panthers) scout and prepare as well as anybody. Our thing is and we’ve got to get better with this, because that’s the way it is in league play. You’ve got to get the ball reversed and you’ve got to give more continuous effort throughout the possession. You’re not going to get many good looks off one cut and one pass.”