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The Aces’ NCAA tournament hopes came to an end Friday in a 51-50 loss to Indiana State in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.

(UE players/coach Marty Simmons post-game transcript.)

(Indiana State players/coach Greg Lansing transcript.)

UE senior Colt Ryan went scoreless in the second half — 0-for-9 from the field — and an Aces rally from 10 points down that fell just short. “Just a tough, tough, grind-it-out physical basketball game where I’m sure it looked ugly at times out there, but I thought both teams were giving tons and tons of effort out there,” said coach Marty Simmons. “Congratulations to Indiana State. I thought they did tons of great things. I’m proud of our team and the way they battled back. We put ourselves in a position where we were able to win. Unfortunately, Indiana State made one more play than we were able to.”

Ryan had scored in double figures in 20 straight games and attempted at least one free throw in 24. His line Friday: 8 points, 0 of 0 free throws. “I thought they did a good job on me, just sending extra defenders, even on tight cuts and stuff,” Ryan said. “I missed some shots that I would normally make and I should have made. Yeah, they did a good job of sending extra attention.”

Indiana State’s bench stepped up during a scoreless first half from juniors Jake Odum and Manny Arop, who returned from a two-game suspension on Friday. Freshman Devonte Brown carried the Sycamores with 11 points, all in the first 20 minutes, and played defense on Ryan. “To hold Colt Ryan scoreless in a half is outstanding,” Odum said. “He’s one of the best scorers in the league and in the country. You’ve got to give credit to Devonte. He was on him for the majority of the half. We had good team defense. (Lansing) mentioned earlier about helping the helper. We’ve done a fairly decent job in the last few weeks of helping the first guy who needed it but not the second guy in the rotation. I thought we did a much better job of that today. We helped on Colt.”

But the loss doesn’t solely fall on the shoulders of Ryan, Aces’ leading scorer. UE went 20 of 56 from the field and tallied just six assists, well short of the 26 they had in last Saturday’s win over the Sycamores. “I just thought as a team, we shot the ball too quick,” Simmons said. “We’re not against quick shots if they’re great shots. But we let our pressure, I think without watching the video, force us into taking quick shots instead of holding onto it, being strong with it, executing cuts and screens, getting the ball into the core of the defense, driving the basketball, making the extra pass. It was a lot different than the game at Evansville when we had 26 assists. I think you’ve got to give Indiana State a lot of credit. I think our basketball team got a little frustrated with that, and our decision making wasn’t what it needed to be. But saying that, we continued to fight and scrap and claw and really put ourselves in a position to win the game.”

UE trailed 44-34 with 10:57 to play. Egidijus Mockevicius then scored five straight Aces points. D.J. Balentine later stepped up to hit consecutive 3-pointers. “Ten minutes is a lot of time in a basketball game,” said senior Troy Taylor. “Our motto was just to get five stops and see what happens from there. We got some stops and people made big shots. Then we were in striking distance, and then we really didn’t want to look back from there.”

Down the stretch of a scrappy game, there were a number of 50-50 calls. One that sticks out — Jake Kitchell’s drive at Mockevicius that sent Kitchell to the line for the winning free throw with 2.5 seconds left. “Yeah, I’m not going to touch that with a 10-foot pole,” Simmons said. “Those guys are great officials. We’ve got some of the best in the country. Everybody’s emotions are out there, and both teams were playing as hard as they possibly could. I’d rather not comment.”

Trailing 51-50 after the Kitchell free throw, UE went back to its same end-game play as against Missouri State. Freshman Adam Wing inbounded to sophomore Jaylon Moore, who handed off to senior Ned Cox. The layup was blocked. “It’s a play we have worked on in practice,” cox said. “We just weren’t able to execute it completely and score.”

Indiana State will meet top-seeded Creighton in the semifinals on Saturday. UE will likely receive some sort of tournament bid, be it from the College Basketball Invitational or CollegeInsider.com Tournament. “I don’t think anybody’s really thinking about that right now,” Simmons said. “The amount of disappointment in that locker room following this game is probably as much as any I’ve ever seen in all my years being a player and being a basketball coach. Our four seniors – they gave their heart and soul to this basketball program – and their No. 1 goal was to have a chance to advance and play in the NCAA tournament. Now that’s gone by the wayside. I don’t think they’re thinking about it right now, and I’m not either. I think as the week moves on, we’ll see whatever opportunities come up. My hope is we will have some opportunities to play. I would sure like to continue coaching this team and have a chance to compete for another championship.”

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