Stories from UE’s three Coaches vs. Cancer Classic games in as many days at the Ford Center:
—Jahr’s 3s lift UE over Western Illinois
—Without Ryan, UE wins first game of the season over Yale
—Hip pointer injury has Ryan “day to day”
—Ryan injured in UE’s loss to Buffalo
—Evansville student Bryce Weiler on the CvC games
—Even before Colt Ryan’s injury, UE’s offense wasn’t clicking. Among the problems coach Marty Simmons points out within the motion sets: not waiting for the screen, cutting at the wrong time and simply missed shots. The result is a team that’s averaging 53 points per game and shooting 36.6. percent as a team. In the meantime the Aces have developed a brand of grind-it-out, defense-first basketball and won a pair of low-scoring games against Yale and Western Illinois. This won’t be UE’s method of operation all season — Simmons figures shots will eventually fall for everyone, namely guys like a healthy Ryan and Ned Cox — but learning how to shut a team down defensively will benefit the Aces in the long run. Look for more on this aspect in Monday’s paper.
—As for how the Aces handled Ryan’s hip pointer injury, they did it the right way: by putting the decision to play in the senior’s hands. Ryan stayed loose on a stationary bike, walked to the scorers table and stretched before coming off the bench Saturday against Western Illinois. There was no predetermined plan — rather it simply came down to Ryan feeling well enough to try. His strides were short, and he couldn’t beat an opponent off the dribble. So when it became apparent that a hobbled Ryan wasn’t better than a healthy reserve, he shut it down what looked like a low-risk return. Some medical websites suggest hip pointers can keep a player out as many as 2-4 weeks, but Ryan already seems far enough along that effective playing time Tuesday at Tennessee Tech isn’t out of the question.
—The secret’s out. After D.J. Balentine scored 16 points Friday against Yale, the Western Illinois bench yelled “shooter!” every time he touched the ball on Saturday. Balentine scored eight against the Leathernecks, four on free throws down the stretch that held the Aces’ lead. Not that it’s ever a good thing to have a guy hurt, but Ryan’s injury triggered a mindset change from Balentine. He went from wanting to score to having score, proving in a matter of two games that the Aces have someone other than Ryan capable of pouring in points a variety of ways. At the same time, Jordan Jahr stepped up to score in double figures in back-to-back nights, the first time he’s accomplished that since his opening two games in an Aces uniform to start the 2010-2011 season.
—If anything, UE’s center situation continues to intrigue. Ryan Sawvell appeared as if he’d run away with the starting job and most minutes after posting a double-double against Notre Dame and Irish big man Jack Cooley. But by the end of three games in three days, minutes were split evenly at the five spot (against Yale: 21 for Egidijus Mockevicius, 20 for Sawvell — some at the four spot — and 19 for Jaylon Moore). And versus Western Illinois, Sawvell saw the court for eight minutes while Moore played 19 and Mockevicius 13. UE coaches obviously haven’t seen much separation among their big men, but they do at least have the ability to cater playing time based upon the opponent. Sawvell’s eight minutes against the Leathernecks can probably be explained by who was on the other side — 6-foot-7, 250-pound Terrel Parks, who scored 16 of his game-high 21 points in the first half.
—Missouri Valley Conference teams left Saturday a combined 22-5 in non-conference play, with three of those losses to ranked opponents. Six of 10 league members are still undefeated. Not all have played against top-notch competition, but with Wichita State’s early win over VCU and Creighton’s comeback over UAB this week showed both of those teams will officially be forces in MVC play. The verdict is still out on the conference’s other top-five selections, but both Northern Iowa and Illinois State play No. 2 Louisville within the next two weeks, which could prove to be a measuring stick for how many NCAA tournament bids the MVC can expect at season’s end.