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Right before the second half started Saturday, a “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” JibJab video with players’ and coach Marty Simmons’ faces played on the Ford Center’s video board. Senior Troy Taylor looked least enthused, so here’s his part.

Stories from UE’s 80-67 win over Alabama State, the Aces’ sixth in their last eight games:

—Courier & Press: Ryan scores season high as UE beats Alabama State
Quotes from coach Marty Simmons, Colt Ryan and Ryan Sawvell
—AL.com: Alabama State falls at Evansville
—UE student Bryce Weiler: Hornets can’t sting Aces

Some observations:

—As UE ran out to a 22-point lead in the first half Saturday, rumors continued to swirl about the Aces’ conference affiliation. Earlier in the day, a Missouri Valley Conference beat writer reported that UE was off to the Horizon League, which athletic director John Stanley denied, as did everyone else in the Ford Center (some laughed, too). A move to the Horizon League, especially after what’s transpired the last two years, makes no sense from a basketball standpoint. Yes, all sports programs across the board would be more competitive there than in the MVC, but investments such as the Ford Center and Fifth Third Practice Facility don’t match up to a Horizon League identity. UE is a school, albeit a small one, that’s put forth a commitment to competing in the MVC long-term. And if Creighton leaves to join the Big East Conference’s seven basketball-only schools, that won’t hurt the MVC’s national standing too much while making it easier for everyone else — UE included — to win the league.

—Alabama State isn’t the type of opponent that’s going to draw a large crowd to the Ford Center or hype around a game, but UE’s coaches used the opportunity to get sophomore Ryan Sawvell back in the mix. Sawvell was set to make his first start in three games before the Hornets made a late lineup change, though he came off the bench for a season-high 11 points in 15 minutes anyway — that after averaging six minutes and one point the last two weeks. It’s freshman Egidijus Mockevicius’ growth into the starting center that’s pushed Sawvell from that role into one of a reserve power forward. Sawvell said after Saturday’s game that playing like he did last season as a freshman –rebounding and defense first — was key in turning things around. Look for more on Sawvell’s impact in Monday’s paper.

—Division II Oakland City University, which comes to the Ford Center on Tuesday, is another opponent — despite being local — that is anything but high profile. In the big picture, though, it’s a game against the Mighty Oaks that at season’s end could make the difference between a winning and losing record for the Aces as well as a postseason appearance. So far UE continues to beat teams it should and lose to the ones that would provide signature non-conference win. Butler, off a victory over No. 1 Indiana, will be another one of those chances on Saturday. A loss to the Bulldogs, however, would still keep the Aces .500 for the week and on pace for another postseason bid.

—Though senior Colt Ryan said he’s not 100 percent yet, his impact on games continues to grow since coming back from a hip pointer injury suffered earlier this season. Ryan poured in a season-high 24 points on Saturday to reclaim his spot as the Aces’ leading scorer at 13.1 points per game. Ryan is also the team’s assists leader with four per game and tied with senior Troy Taylor for first on the team with 1.5 steals per contest. As opponents’ scouting reports return to concentrating on Ryan, it should be interesting to watch what opportunities open up for other players within the offense.

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