The Morning After: Illinois State

Now that we’ve all had 14 hours to digest the game, here we go.

Stories from last night’s OT thriller:

–Courier & Press: http://bit.ly/MOJGQ5
–Bloomington Pantagraph: http://bit.ly/1gv54EC

Some observations:

–An hour or so earlier, Indiana blew an 11-point lead at home to Penn State and lost the game. When Illinois State started creeping back in the game, the thought that UE could collapse like the Hoosiers crossed my mind. After Nick Zeisloft hit his fourth 3-pointer of the night to give the Redbirds their first (and eventually only) lead of the night, what impressed me most was how the Aces kept attacking. The refs were calling the game tight all night and D.J. Balentine recognized that, getting to the line twice in the final minute of regulation to give the Aces the lead again. Luckily for the Aces, they didn’t end up like the Hoosiers.

–Speaking of free throws, 56 attempts is ridiculous. The last time UE attempted 50+ free throws was against Norfolk State in 2010. In the four-game slump, head coach Marty Simmons stressed the importance of the team continuing to play aggressively and getting to the basket. That came in flurries last night. Between the 15:39 and 8:15 marks of the second half, 16 of UE’s 20 points came from the foul line. Yes, it makes the game slower but it also puts the other team in foul trouble. Four Illinois State players fouled out, including its three top scorers, thinning the bench and forcing inexperienced players to perform in clutch situations.

–More about free throws: D.J. Balentine and Jaylon Brown. Brown is a 44 percent shot from the foul line on the season and he came up huge for the Aces, hitting all four of his shots to seal the game. Duane Gibson fouled out at the end of regulation, which essentially gave Brown his “time to shine,” and Balentine went 20-for-25, tying the single-game record for most made free throws.

–The first 20ish minutes of the game were exactly how the Aces played at the very beginning of the season. They were confident — surprisingly so, seeing how they played their past four games — aggressive, persistent on the glass. That’s how they started out 5-0, and that’s how Simmons has been urging his team to play the entirety of the MVC season. We saw glimpses of it — at Southern Illinois, against Bradley, at times at Missouri State and Illinois State — and we saw a full half of it last night.

Some quotes:

–Balentine on whether UE was prepared for Illinois State’s switch to man-to-man defense: “Not really. We played against man all the time. But for them, no. They haven’t played man all year in conference, so that’s what coach said at halftime, that we have to be prepared.”

–Balentine on if the 5:05 stretch without a FG was a concern: “Not really. We’re going to have those moments where we can’t hit anything. That’s where we have to attack and get to the FT line. That’s the main thing—if shots arent’ falling, get to the bucket.”

–Simmons’ initial thoughts: “Really proud of our team. There are so many times during the last five minutes and during the overtime where it looked like we were ready to break. Lots of frustration, a lot of disappointment, guys weren’t feeling confident. For them to bond together and to fight through it and make good play after good play to win the game, I’m proud of them. They deserve it.”

And some #statnuggets:

– UE’s 104 points marked the most since scoring 115 at Hawaii-Hilo on Nov. 28, 1998 and was the most versus a Division I opponent since taking a 110-64 win over South Alabama on Dec. 14, 1994.

–It was the most against a conference opponent since taking a 115-104 road win at Loyola on in 1989 and was the highest home conference output since a 109-83 win over Dayton that same season. Of significance in that game was Scott Haffner’s school record of 65 points.

–The most free throw attempts UE had all season prior to last night was 39 against Miami (Ohio).

–The Aces had three players in double figures after just the first half: Balentine, Blake Simmons and Egidijus Mockevicius. At the end of the game, UE still had three players in double figures.

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