Stories from Sunday’s 66-60 win over Bradley:
–UE whipped out the pick and roll in early possessions and played stifling defense in the first half of the game. I was really impressed with how the Aces (especially Adam Wing and Egidijus Mockevicius) hedged ball screens to keep Walt Lemon Jr. from going off and how well Mockevicius recovered in the paint to prevent easy looks inside. Bradley head coach Geno Ford said the first 20 minutes is what sealed the Braves’ fate despite his team’s comeback in the second half, and he’s right. UE took an early lead, held onto it, and didn’t crumble under pressure late in the game — signs of a maturing team.
–I expected a bit of the game to be a D.J. Balentine-Walt Lemon Jr. showdown — Lemon Jr. guarded Balentine at the beginning of the game — but UE did a fantastic job shutting down the Bradley guard in the first half. Jaylon Brown was tasked with guarding Lemon Jr. from the opening tip, as Brown got his first career start, and his athleticism really showed as he kept up with Lemon Jr. Hedging screens also helped contain Lemon, as hedging screens prevented him from driving to the basket after separation from his defender.
–The biggest takeaway from the game isn’t how any one individual played; it’s how the team played as a whole. I remember tweeting midway through the first half that this may be the best team basketball the Aces have played all season, and I stand by that. After stringing together five solid games in the conference, even if two of them are losses, UE seems to be gelling again. And at the right time: the Aces have road trips to Northern Iowa and Wichita State on the schedule this week.
–UE head coach Marty Simmons on Balentine’s 3-pointer with a minute to play: “It certainly gave us a big boost. No doubt. Shot clock’s winding down, ball fake, bam. He was ready to shoot. He shot with confidence, but our ability to get a stop on the next possession was the key possession to me. At times throughout this season we’d score big baskets but we haven’t been able to go down at the other end and make a stop.”
–Balentine on the first half: “I think we played solid defense at the beginning. We held Walt’s penetration down a lot and we tried to take their bigs out of the game early. For the most part, we were clicking.”
–Bradley head coach Geno Ford on the Braves’ good second half run: “We did enough good things in the second half to win, but when you’re coming from 10 down it makes it tougher.”