The Morning After: Bradley-UE

UE’s defense held Bradley to 34.5 percent shooting in the second half Wednesday. ERIN MCCRACKEN/C&P

Stories from UE’s 66-56 win over Bradley, which ended a two-game losing skid:

—Courier & Press: Aces surge past Bradley behind late 3-pointers
—Peoria Journal Star: UE downs sputtering Bradley

Some observations:

—When Marty Simmons talks about consistency, that typically includes ever aspect of the game. The one to watch Wednesday was shooting, perhaps the biggest factor in last week’s losses at Drake and Indiana State. UE delivered with its midrange jumpers this time, but shots from a few feet inside the 3-point line aren’t necessarily high-percentage opportunities. They’re definitely not something a team should rely upon when hoping for consistency. Maybe while continuing with transition changes, the Aces should try to feed big man Egidijus Mockevicius more in the post. It’s something to watch moving forward. If Lewis Jones and Troy Taylor aren’t rattling in 18-footers, where does UE go from there? Ideally, to looks where the Aces can be more consistent.

—Much was made of UE’s struggles on the offensive end, especially during the second halves in last week’s losses to Drake and Indiana State. The Aces definitely played a more complete game offensively, but perhaps more important was the defense. UE shot 50 percent but still scored just 66 points. It was more than enough to overcome Bradley, which committed 16 turnovers — well above its average — and only forced five steals, so there was little transition game for the Braves. The final score didn’t tell the whole story, either. Referees whistled the Aces for a number of touch fouls in the second half, and Bradley hit 6 of 7 free throws to linger for a bit.

—Simmons was asked Monday whether he’s thought about what life will be like next season without UE senior Colt Ryan. Simmons said, “Absolutely not.” And why would he? There’s a long way to go in this season, and there’s still building to be done around the Aces’ leading scorer. Against Bradley, that didn’t mean another player in double figures, but UE’s four other starters each scored at least seven points. Bradley coach Geno Ford called Ned Cox “elite,” and everyone knows about the toughness Taylor brings to the floor. It can’t be a one-man show if UE is to compete for a Missouri Valley Conference championship this season, and Simmons said as much after the Bradley game.

—Mockevicius has really turned into the player Aces fans hoped he could be. The freshman exemplified that during the second half Wednesday, taking a big step in his in-game development. After picking up two fouls in fewer than 10 minutes in the first half, officials didn’t whistle the big man for another in the second, when he grabbed nine of his game-high 10 rebounds. Half of those came on the offensive end, too. At one point in the game, with the 6-foot-10 freshman huffing and puffing, UE even called timeout to give Mockevicius a breather and keep him in the game. The five spot, a rotating door much of this season, seems to have stopped swinging.