UE led by as many as 26 points in its 62-50 win at Tennessee Tech, a lead formed mostly during the team’s 22-2 run that ended the first half. Before that, the Aces were down as many as four points.
Ned Cox scored a season-high 15 points, D.J. Balentine added 11, and each of the nine UE players to see time scored.
On the offensive effort, coach Marty Simmons said: “I just saw guys being really unselfish out there. We knew they would give us a lot of pressure, and they switched their defenses a little bit. They pressed on made buckets, they played some man and played some zone. I just thought our guys did a good job with spacing. When we took care of the basketball, we were able to get some pretty good looks.”
Cox’s 15 points led all scorers — not the first time he’s had a big game at Tennessee Tech’s Eblen Center: “He made some big shots, and he had a big game down here as a freshman,” Simmons said. “Sometimes just being in a place where you’ve had success at an earlier time in your career can make a little difference and give you some confidence. He just seemed to have confidence in the shoot around. He knows how important he is to the team, and he stepped up and made some big shots.”
Said Cox, who entered shooting just 26 percent this season: “I have confidence in my shot. I wouldn’t say anything was different or because freshman year I had a good game here. This is definitely a new year. But like I said, I’ve been getting in the gym and getting open shots. I knew they were going to fall eventually. I took a step forward. I still missed a lot of shots, but I’m going to keep working and keep getting better.”
Senior Colt Ryan sat out his second full game after suffering a hip pointer injury last week. Can he play Monday against Alabama A&M? “I hope so,” Simmons said. “I think it’s just like we’ve talked earlier – it’s day to day. It seemed to make a lot of improvement the first couple of days, and now the last couple days minimal improvement. With an injury like that, you’ve just got to wait and see. But our hope is, he’ll be back pretty quick.”
The Aces, though, have won all three games in which Ryan has been limited or out completely. “We’re versatile,” Cox said. “We have a lot of guys who can score, so we’re not dependent on one person. We know Colt’s a great scorer, so we’re not just dependent on someone to step in and take his points. The whole team can score. We just played Evansville basketball – distributed the ball well, made the extra pass when we needed, and people were hitting shots.”
The win was UE’s third straight after an 0-2 start with losses to Notre Dame and Buffalo: “Our confidence is high,” Balentine said. “The teams we lost to are really good, but we felt like we let them get away. We should be undefeated right now. So there was never a point in time when we were worried. It was all based on effort. The effort was never there those first two games, so now we’ve turned it up on offense and defense. We’re feeling pretty good right now.”
Defensively, the Aces held Tennessee Tech senior Jud Dillard to 9 points in 25 minutes. Dillard entered averaging 28 a game. “He’s a terrific player,” Simmons said. “He scores it in so many plays. We just wanted, when he did have the ball, to see two and three guys staring at him wanting to help and ready to help. We just wanted to make him earn every bucket he got, and for the most part I think we did a pretty good job of that.”
Simmons on the Aces out-rebounding the Golden Eagles 34-24 as well as out-scoring them 24-14 in the paint and 14-3 on second-chance opportunities: “We’ve been talking about it, and the coaches have been really on them in practice about blocking out. We didn’t do a lot on Sunday, but we actually practiced pretty well on Monday. Blocking out was something where we really saw some improvement. You always wonder if you’re going to get the carryover into the game, and I thought we did. This was one of the more athletic teams we’ve played to this point.”
At one point, UE’s defense held Tennessee Tech scoreless for more than 11 minutes: “We’re just getting after it,” Balentine said. “Coach harps on defense all the time – all the time. He brings up stats from last year’s defense and how it just wasn’t very good. We do a lot of defensive drills in practice, and he always talks about getting after it, getting the hustle points and all that stuff. That’s our main objective end. Being good on the defensive end will help the offense.”
Egidijus Mockevicius got the start at the five and Ryan Sawvell the four: “We’re just going to evaluate that game by game and day by day,” Simmons said. “A lot of times matchups dictate our lineups. We played Western (Illinois) the other night, and they played basically four guards and then (Terrel) Parks, who’s really a four playing the five. That’s a tough matchup. I thought everybody played well tonight.”
By the way, Missouri Valley Conference teams are 30-7 so far this season in non-conference play. “We’re just worried about us,” Cox said. “We’re not really comparing us to others and looking at what everyone else is doing. We’re just establishing ourselves as a hard-working team and a team that’s going to play team ball and grind out the games when necessary.”