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The Aces (17-13, 9-8 MVC) overcame a shooting drought Wednesday night but won on the road anyway, securing their third straight victory by a 59-56 score at Wichita State (24-6, 12-5 MVC).

It marked the first time UE’s program has won at Wichita since 2001. “We told the players in the locker room that they just experienced something here tonight that they’ll remember for a lifetime,” said coach Marty Simmons. “Coming into this arena and beating a team with their kind of accomplishments is really special. We’ve been close here before. We’ve just never been able to finish it.”

Colt Ryan scored 29 points, but it was a pair of key buckets from reserve Jordan Nelson (with Ned Cox out due to his foot injury) that helped the Aces. Nelson hit both his attempts from the field to finish with five points. “He’s a great player, and he does it every day in practice,” Ryan said. “That’s the thing that we’ve said the most to him is, ‘Nelson, you make the shots in practice all the time. What’s the difference in the game, you know what I mean?’ He did a great job tonight – stepped up and made some big shots for us. It was tied at 42, we were stagnant, and they were running on us. He just came in and was able to knock in a 3 for us and get us jump started again.”

Added Nelson: “Coaches have been telling me all week to be ready, so I went out there with confidence and just trusted myself and my teammates. It all worked out.”

UE led by 13 points in the first half before an eight-minute shooting drought allowed Wichita State back in it during the second. “We just had good rhythm in the first half,” Simmons said. “A lot of guys were making shots, and we got out to a good start. We knew they were going to bring the pressure in the second half, and they did. That’s been a weakness of ours, and we’ve got to get better. Our guys stayed the course. They kept battling and fighting. There’s nothing negative about this. To come into this environment with one of your seniors – Ned (Cox) banged up – D.J. (Balentine) stepped up in there, (Ryan) Sawvell stepped up, Jordan Nelson hit a big 3 and made the tight cut right there. That’s what it takes to win a game like this one the road. You’ve got to have guys like that step up.”

While the offense struggled, UE’s defense surged. Wichita State scored three points in the final eight minutes after taking its biggest lead at 53-49. “We were getting some stops defensively, which is big,” Ryan said. “That’s what we have to do (to get through droughts). Once we really realized it, I tried to make sure we drew some fouls, got to the free throw line, and tried to keep the crowd out of it.”

After Ryan missed a 3-pointer on the Aces’ final possession, Wichita State had two of its own chances go awry. Nelson, who averages just 7.7 minutes a game, was on the floor for it. “We knew they were going to try to run something to (Cleanthony) Early or (Malcolm) Armstead, so we tried to really, really stay tight on them and not let them get free,” Nelson said. “Then when the shot goes up, try to block out and get the ball. Colt (Ryan) almost had (the first rebound).”

The Aces secured a fifth or better seed in the MVC tournament with the victory, meaning it’s three games in three days for an NCAA tournament bid. “We’re playing a little better basketball now than what we were before, and now’s the time we want to be doing that,” Ryan said. “We know we’re not anywhere near perfect, and we’ve still got to get better each and every day.”

After spoiling Wichita State’s final home game, the Aces host their own senior day Saturday when playing Indiana State. “We’ve got some quality, quality guys that have invested a big portion of their life at the University of Evansville, in our basketball program and really in our community,” Simmons said. “I think it would be a great thing to have our fans come out. We need their support. We’re a little banged up, and we need that – we need that sixth man. There’s no doubt about it. That enthused, energetic crowd helps us – really does. I certainly would hope everybody would come out, and let’s have a great, great sendoff for these guys.”

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