The Aces (12-8, 5-3 Missouri Valley Conference) ended their two-game skid on Wednesday, pulling away late to beat Bradley 66-56 at the Ford Center.
UE hit just two 3-pointers the entire game, but they were big against the Braves (12-8, 4-4 MVC). The first came just inside of 10 minutes to play.
Bradley coach Geno Ford explains: “We went zone, and they were in the bonus. Evansville is a great free throw shooting team, and I didn’t want the last seven minutes of the game or whatever with Colt Ryan living on the foul line. So we tried to go zone, and the kid off the bench — I think it was (Adam) Wing, No. 12 — bombed one on us from the corner that was a big shot. Quite frankly, we were trying to keep it away from Ryan. We were trying to keep it away from Ned Cox. And you’ve got to give the Wing kid credit. He stepped up and made what was a big 3.”
Said Ryan: “I didn’t honestly know that we hadn’t made a 3-pointer at that point. I know I came off that two man and saw there was nobody over by him. I kicked it to him. Wing’s a great shooter. He knocked it in, and I think it was a big shot for us. After he made that one, I came down and made another one. It kind of gave us a little energy — got the lid off the basket.”
After Wing’s 3-pointer, Bradley clawed back to within a point. From there, Ryan hit another long ball to start a 9-0 run that secured a win. “We watched a ton of film on Bradley,” Simmons said. “They’re tough. They’re physical. They play extremely hard. They make you play hard. I just thought during that stretch, our intensity level, which has been a weakness here in the last couple of games in the second half…was much better.”
Wing’s 3-pointer was key, sure. But UE did shoot 50 percent from the field in both halves. “They’re all big,” Simmons said. “I thought Lewis (Jones) getting off to such a good start for us offensively was big. We need everybody to be a threat out there offensively. Colt’s going to draw a lot of attention, and we just have to continue to improve with that — with the guys around him…I told you earlier that when we’re at our best, we’re going to be a balanced basketball team.”
Ryan also dished out three assists in 38 minutes, including a big one to Wing. “Most of the time I know Colt’s going to draw a double team,” Wing said. “Referring back to the 3 I hit in the corner, Colt drove, a guy jumped on him and I was standing there wide open. I trusted Colt to make the extra pass, and he did.”
Ryan’s 19 points led the Aces despite Bradley’s best efforts to stop him. “Colt Ryan — I would assume fans in town understand — he’s not a good player. He’s a great player,” Ford said. “We didn’t want him to be the guy that beat us. I thought we guarded him well, and he still finishes with 19 points and shoots 7 of 13 — and I thought we did a pretty decent job on him. In those stretches of the game, we didn’t want him to jump up and beat us. In league play he’s averaging 20 a game and nobody else is in double figures.”
After sitting most of the first half with two fouls, UE freshman Egidijus Mockevicius came back to grab nine of his game-high 10 rebounds in the second. “He plays so hard,” Simmons said. “It’s contagious. Even when he didn’t block shots. We had a very difficult time keeping (Walt) Lemon in front of us. He’s very good, and in the first half he hit some huge 3s. In the second half, he was hesitating. With Egidijus in there it gives us a bigger guy, and when he didn’t block shots he at least adjust shots.”
Lemon scored 16 points in the first half, but the Aces held him to six in the second. “(Mockevicius has) done a great job with contesting shots down the stretch,” Ryan said. “I think he had four blocks tonight, and I remember down the stretch if he didn’t block them, he was still altering them, which is big. We haven’t had that in Evansville for a while. The next step is, we need to make sure our guards are weak side rebounding.”
Mockevicius said he saw his role growing throughout the game: “Actually, I did. It felt awesome. I’m happy for my team. I’m happy for our fans for all the support. I really appreciate it…I’m just trying to be useful for my team and my coaches and trying to get confidence.”