UE rallied for its second win in as many nights Saturday, running its record to .500 with a 49-45 victory over Western Illinois in the Aces’ final Coaches vs. Cancer Classic game.
It didn’t come without many memorable moments: Colt Ryan playing injured, Troy Taylor making what coach Marty Simmons called the best save he’s ever seen as well as some key shooting by Jordan Jahr.
Simmons’ opening statement: “I can’t say enough. Three games in three days against very good competition, and their ability to reach down and compete the way they did the last three or four minutes was pretty special. Give Western Illinois all the credit in the world. They’re very well-coached and certainly defended us outstandingly, but our guys just hung in there and made some special plays that gave us an opportunity to win.”
On Jahr’s play (13 points/8 rebounds): “I thought we played really well last night, and I thought he played terrific tonight. He made huge shots, he made a big steal on the post in the second half. He’s been very consistent rebounding the basketball. I thought he did some great things.”
Simmons said Taylor, who left late, just bumped his head at the end of the game and should be OK. Taylor played 39 minutes: “He’s an incredible athlete. He’s an incredible competitor. The save he made down there was maybe the best I’ve ever seen in my life. He had zero chance to get that. He just never quit. He goes after that ball and he just does a lot of great things for our team.”
Senior Ned Cox on Taylor’s effort: “You can’t say enough about him. He’s a little water bug. He’s everywhere. For somebody his size to rebound the way he does is great. Our team definitely needs it. Just the hustle plays that he makes give our team a boost and give us energy and stuff. Down the stretch, him diving for the ball and saving it – probably just a few minutes left – him saving it and giving us another possession is big.”
Simmons said there was no certain plan about whether Ryan (one assist in three minutes) would play: “He warmed up, and we thought he would give it a chance to play. He’s just not ready right now.”
How hopeful is Simmons that Ryan can play more Tuesday? “Are you kidding me? I’m very hopeful…I told you what the Yale guy said last night. I don’t know. I was really kind of surprised that he was as far along today as he was. That’s a tough one. Obviously he probably won’t do anything tomorrow, and we’ll just have to evaluate it.”
Added Cox about Ryan playing through the pain: “That’s Colt. He’s hungry to play and he always wants to be on the court helping his teammates. Like Jahr said, it was a last-minute thing where he was feeling really good before the game. He got in there and you could kind of tell by the way he was running that it was still kind of tender. He’s a gutsy guy. He’s going to give it his all when he’s out there. His personality – he’s always looking to help his teammates.”
Simmons left the court Saturday with a smile and a fist pump: “I think more than anything I was happy for my team to fight and scratch and claw the way they have the last two nights. That’s why we do this. That’s why we coach. To see those guys work as hard as they did and to get rewarded in that way was neat. We’ll enjoy this for today, but like you said, we’ve really got to get to work. I know Tennessee Tech won today at East Tennessee State, and they beat us up here last year. They’re a good basketball team, and we’ve got to improve the next couple days, go down there and play our best basketball.”
Jahr made a 3-pointer with 7:06 left that pulled UE to within 42-40, and he hit again from beyond the arc with 2:39 to go, giving the Aces a 43-42 advantage. He said: “My shot felt real good. Even yesterday, I knocked down a perimeter shot. I think I’m just being a lot more aggressive now. That comes with being comfortable on the court.”
Cox on Western Illinois senior Terrel Parks, who scored 21 points – 16 in the first half: “For most of the game, we didn’t feel like we played well…We needed some key plays, so we just focused on putting maximum effort out, locking down on defense and trying to execute on the offensive end. He had a great game, but we were able to grind it out. We were able to withstand it and came out with a victory.”