Stories from UE’s 79-62 win over Illinois State, which moved the Aces into fifth place in the Missouri Valley Conference:
—Courier & Press: Ryan goes for 31 as UE moves up in MVC with victory
—The Pantagraph: Redbirds trail the whole way, lose at UE
—UE got contributions in a number of areas Wednesday that it hasn’t nearly the entire conference season. Freshman Adam Wing, in his second start, gave a quality performance at the four spot: eight points and eight rebounds. When Illinois State cut the lead to six, the Aces actually responded on a run — a pair of 3-pointers by senior Ned Cox and a layup from sophomore Ryan Sawvell. After Troy Taylor got in foul trouble in the first half and Colt Ryan in the second, a shortened but efficient bench — 18 minutes from D.J. Balentine and 11 from Jordan Nelson — avoided the scoring droughts UE fans are accustomed to seeing. All of that, paired with a discrepancy at the free throw line — 5 of 7 for Illinois State compared to the Aces’ 19 of 28 — led to a rout.
—Best performance of the season? Probably. UE’s game Wednesday night was big not just for the current Missouri Valley Conference standings, but just knowing the Aces have it in them to play well when it counts most. This wasn’t a must-win situation — yet — though a loss would have created a pair of them as UE finishes the season at Wichita State and against Indiana State at the Ford Center. The goal at this point is obviously to finish sixth or better in the MVC, avoiding having to play on the opening day of Arch Madness, and it would now take losses in the Aces’ final two games for that to happen. When it actually comes to tournament play, UE’s players and coaches can have Wednesday’s game in the back of their minds. Just knowing that sort of result is possible can do a lot for a team in March.
—At this point, you almost have to feel bad for senior Colt Ryan in regard the way MVC opponents have decided to play him. Or, rather how officials let the rest of the league to play Ryan. Because he works mostly off the ball for shot chances, opponents have one major defense — push and fight and shove so he can’t get open. And it’s been allowed to happen, especially during the second half of the MVC slate. Ryan still gets his shots, but there’s a look of bewilderment on the swingman’s face every time the whistle goes against him. They’re usually provoked — a returned shove or hand check for the 10 others Ryan received at the other end. He went 9 of 18 from the field anyway Wednesday (7 of 12 in the first half) to finish with 31 points. It followed a 3-for-18 outing in the Aces’ loss to Creighton.
—At this point, it seems with Wing in the starting lineup the Aces’ best rotation is set. Balentine usually logs the most minutes of anyone off the bench, entering for both Cox and Taylor. Depending on opposing lineups, Sawvell and sophomore Jaylon Moore spell freshman Egidijus Mockevicius at the five spot. Sophomore Jordan Nelson enters in spot situations as well, while senior Lewis Jones has seen his minutes cut. In a given game, UE’s relying on just seven or eight players to get it done whereas early in the season, the Aces had 10 or more players scoring in some games. It’s a natural progression for most teams late in the season, but to see UE put together potentially its best 40-minute effort with a shorter rotation signals the right steps were made.