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CHARLESTON, Ill. — D.J. Balentine scored 11 points and buried his third 3-pointer three seconds before the buzzer to lead the University of Evansville men’s basketball team to a 37-27 halftime lead over Eastern Illinois at Lantz Arena.

Egidijus Mockevicius added nine points and eight rebounds for UE, which is looking to advance to the quarterfinals of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament. The 6-foot-10 Mockevicius also contested several shots inside, helping the Aces hold EIU to 2-for-18 shooting inside the arc.

But the Panthers knocked down 7 of 13 from long range to somewhat offset 29 percent field-goal shooting. Dylan Chatman drained four 3s and led EIU with 12 points.

EIU senior Reggie Smith left nine minutes into the game with an apparent leg injury.

UE led for all but 39 seconds of the half.

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Basic info: CIT second round, Evansville (20-12) at Eastern Illinois (18-14), 7 p.m. Monday at Lantz Arena in Charleston, Illinois.

Preview story: Aces to face multidimensional Eastern Illinois

Live stream: All CIT games available for streaming here.

Radio: WUEV 91.5 FM

 

PROBABLE STARTERS

Evansville: Jaylon Brown (6-0, So., G, 4.9 ppg, 2.4 apg); D.J. Balentine (6-2, Jr., G, 19.4 ppg, 3.2 apg); Blake Simmons (6-5, So., G/F, 7.3 ppg, 2.2 apg); Adam Wing (6-4, Jr., F, 7.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg); Egidijus Mockevicius (6-10, Jr., C, 12.2 ppg, 9.8 rpg).

Eastern Illinois: Cornell Johnston (5-7, Fr., G, 9.2 ppg, 4.7 apg); LeTrell ‘Snoop’ Viser (6-2, Jr., G, 6.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg); Dylan Chatman (6-1, Sr., G, 5.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg); Chris Olivier (6-8, Jr., F, 12.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg); Josh Piper (6-8, Sr., F, 4.1 ppg, 2.8 rpg).

——

Noting Evansville: UE reached the 20-win mark for the second time since 1999 with a first-round win over IPFW. Balentine scored a season-high 35 points in that game, burying his first nine field-goal attempts. … The Aces rank 22nd in the nation in free-throw percentage (74.5). … Mockevicius and Balentine were both named to the all-Missouri Valley Conference first team and Mockevicius was also named to the all-defensive team. … Eastern Illinois leads the all-time series 11-8 and is 6-2 at home against Evansville.

Noting Eastern Illinois: Ten EIU players play more than 10 minutes per game, and nine have started this season. … Trae Anderson, the Panthers’ leading scorer at 13.3 points per game, has come off the bench in 14 of 29 games. … Johnston is EIU’s leading 3-point shooter, knocking down 53 of 101 (52.5 percent) from long range. … The Panthers finished 9-7 in the Ohio Valley Conference, losing to NCAA tournament qualifier Belmont in the OVC tournament.

——

Predictions:  Evansville is favored by three points. Ken Pomeroy predicts a 66-65 Eastern Illinois win and gives each team a 50 percent chance of victory.

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Finally getting around to posting some leftover notes, quotes and observations from Evansville’s victory over IPFW in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (you can read my game story here).

Here we go…

1. The 30-second shot clock was a nonfactor.

The game was played with a quick pace throughout, especially early. The Aces had one shot-clock violation in the second half, but that was because a scramble for a loose ball led to an out-of-bounds play with three seconds on the shot clock and then a forced airball as the time expired.

But both teams largely avoided shooting near the end of the clock, even though it is five seconds shorter in this tournament than the regular season.

“(Tuesday) in practice, I really got concerned (about the shorter clock),” Evansville coach Marty Simmons said. “For the most part, I thought we had pretty good rhythm. We were getting it out of the net (quickly) when they scored and we’ve been pretty good all year at when we force a missed shot, getting out in transition.”

2. Balentine put on his best shooting display of the season.

The guy hit 11 of his first 12 shots, including six 3-pointers. It was pretty incredible.

“Every game I try to come out with that mindset to kill, and today went OK,” said Balentine, chuckling after he was called out for his understatement.

Said Simmons: “He’s one of those guys when he gets in that zone, he’s had several games where he’s been able to fill it up. What I think pleased me the most was the variety of ways that he scored his baskets.”

When asked if Balentine was difficult to prepare for with his quick release, IPFW coach Jon Coffman said, “It’s tough to simulate. I wish we had a guy that could do that.”

3. IPFW successfully collapsed UE’s defense in the second half, forcing the Aces into scramble mode.

Whether by driving and kicking or playing through post player Steve Forbes, IPFW was able to get into the teeth of UE’s defense and then find open shooters. The Mastodons canned 8 of 14 3-pointers in the second half to get back into the game.

“They play four guards similar to us so with the pick-and-roll we obviously have to help on the big guy rolling,” Balentine said. “They caught fire down the stretch. Coach was getting on us for not getting stops, but I tried to tell him they were hitting tough shots.”

“We dropped 50 on a really good defensive team in the second half,” Coffman said.

Said Simmons: “They’re a difficult team to defend. In their last five (games) they’re shooting 43 percent from 3. … They run the pick-and-roll and replace as well as anyone. We had some breakdowns and they had some really good execution.”

4. It was another underwhelming finish to a game for UE.

The Aces won by five points, moving their record in games decided by five points or less to 5-8. But it was hardly an emphatic way to seal a victory after UE led by 23 points four minutes into the second half.

“Give Fort Wayne credit,” Simmons said. “They never quit, they kept battling, but we’ve got to turn the screws. We’ve got to do a better job. We’ve got to finish at the basket better and we’ve got to get more stops; we didn’t get many stops in the second half.”

 

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Basic info: CIT first round — IPFW (16-14, 9-7 Summit League) at Evansville (19-12, 9-9 Missouri Valley), 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Ford Center

Preview story: CIT ‘another opportunity’ for Moore, Aces

Live stream: All CIT games can be watched here.

Radio: WUEV 91.5 FM

 

PROBABLE STARTERS

IPFW: Mo Evans (6-0, So., G, 10.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg); Steve Forbes (6-9, Sr., F, 13.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg); Max Landis (6-2, Jr., G, 9.2 ppg, 2.3 apg); Isaiah McCray (6-0, Sr., G, 8.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg); Joe Edwards (6-5, Sr., G, 11.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg).

Evansville: D.J. Balentine (6-2, Jr., G, 18.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg); Jaylon Brown (6-0, So., G, 4.9 ppg, 2.5 apg); Blake Simmons (6-5, So., G/F, 7.2 ppg, 2.3 apg); Adam Wing (6-4, Jr., F, 7.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg); Egidijus Mockevicius (6-10, Jr., C, 12.1 ppg, 9.8 rpg).

——

Noting IPFW: Forbes, a 295-pound post player, was named to the all-Summit League first team. Edwards was an honorable mention selection and Landis was on the all-newcomer team. … IPFW also played in the CIT last season, beating Akron at home before losing to VMI on the road in the second round. … The Mastodons have six players who have scored 20-plus points in a game this season. … IPFW has never played UE. … IPFW has played two of the same opponents as UE. The Mastodons split a pair of games against IUPUI and topped Miami (Ohio) 86-78 at home. Evansville blew out both of those opponents during its nonconference slate.

Noting Evansville: Balentine ranks seventh of UE’s career scoring list with 1,630 points. Colt Ryan (2009-13) holds the record with 2,279. … Mockevicius is second in school history in blocked shots (194), 32 behind Dan Godfread (226 blocks from 1986-90). Mockevicius also ranks eighth in career rebounds and is six away from moving past Godfread into seventh place. … Evansville shoots 49.6 percent from home compared to 45.7 percent away from the Ford Center. … The CIT invitation marks the Aces’ fifth postseason appearance in seven years. UE last played in the CIT following the 2012-13 season, advancing to the semifinals.

——

Predictions: Evansville is favored by seven points. Ken Pomeroy predicts a 72-66 UE win and gives the Aces a 74 percent chance of victory.

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ST. LOUIS — The University of Evansville men’s basketball team shot 59 percent from the field Friday to take a 37-31 halftime lead over Illinois State in a Missouri Valley Conference tournament quarterfinal at the Scottrade Center.

Eight different players scored for the fifth-seeded Aces, who received a team-high eight points from Mislav Brzoja and seven each from D.J. Balentine and Egidijus Mockevicius. Each of UE’s post players — Mockevicius, Jaylon Moore and David Howard — picked up two fouls in the first half.

Deontae Hawkins knocked down a pair of early 3-pointers and led the fourth-seeded Redbirds, who finished 11 of 27 from the field.

UE shot 13 of 22 from the floor, including 4-for-8 from 3-point range. Duane Gibson and Brzoja recorded three assists apiece as the Aces assisted on all but two of their made baskets.

Evansville held the lead for the remainder of the half following a 9-0 run midway through the period. Mockevicius had five points during that spurt but sat out the last 10 minutes with two fouls.

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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.”

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

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.”