Stories from Wednesday’s 94-68 UE win over Miami (Ohio), the Aces’ fifth victory in six games:
—Courier & Press: Ryan, Balentine ignite Aces to record-setting offensive night at Ford Center
—Middletown Journal: RedHawks bested by hot-shooting Evansville
—Cincinnati Enquirer: Evansville routs Miami (Ohio) behind first-half runs
—Off an early season loss to Buffalo, coach Marty Simmons told his team it needed to exude more effort on the basketball court. A string of four straight wins followed. And after last Saturday’s loss at Colorado State, Simmons said UE’s its lack of aggressiveness allowed a lopsided rebounding margin for the host Rams. The Aces then went on to out-rebound Miami (Ohio) 38-13, tallied 22 assists to 13 turnovers and routed a RedHawks team that figured to be better than their record indicated with losses to North Carolina State as well as Louisville. The end score actually wasn’t all that different from those to the ranked foes. Simmons talked often in the preseason about the benefits of four seniors on his roster, and their coach-ability has proved to be another asset — as well as something I’ll write more about in Friday’s paper.
—Freshman D.J. Balentine has made a habit out of surprising opponents off the bench with his shooting, and he did it again by hitting four of his five 3-pointers Wednesday during an Aces run in the first half that proved decisive. The secret is out as far as his shooting prowess, but Balentine continues to get open in different ways — most recently in transition last night — with a quick release and no fear to pull from a couple feet behind the line. He deserves credit, at least in some part, for allowing the entire team to go 14 of 18 from beyond the arc against Miami. Like senior Colt Ryan, Balentine has the ability to draw a pair of defenders, or at least make it so his defender can’t leave for help defense or to trap. That allowed shots to open up on the perimeter for Ryan and fellow senior Ned Cox. The three combined to hit 11 of those 14 3-pointers.
—Which leads to the next issue: should Balentine start? To do so would sell short what senior guards Troy Taylor and Ted Cox bring to to the floor. Taylor has started on teams with winning records and is doing it again this season while Cox, a career reserve, deserves the chance to lead. Plus, Simmons is extremely loyal to the seniors, and rightfully so. The main argument for Balentine starting is the Aces’ shooting percentage splits when he plays, as opposed to when he’s on the bench. They’re 28 percent shooters during the first four minutes of games and 46 percent from the field the rest of the way, when Balentine logs his 24.8 minutes per contest. Still, what Taylor (11 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and just one turnover in 34 minutes against Miami) and Cox (15 points, 3 rebounds and no turnovers in 25 minutes) can do goes beyond statistics. It doesn’t hurt to have the spark of a 48 percent 3-point shooter off the bench, either.
—Freshman Adam Wing became just another player Wednesday who flashed potential of what he can do over four years at UE. Wing scored nine points in 17 minutes, both career highs, adding to an impacting freshman class that’s already delivered major contributions from Balentine, the team’s leading scorer, and Egidijus Mockevicius, the Aces’ starting center. All three have brought an attitude so far that’s made them fan favorites — Balentine’s confidence, Wing’s humility and Mockevicius’ will to learn. Then there’s David Howard, who volunteered to redshirt and come back stronger next season. That’s a good bunch.
—An announced crowd of 3,481 showed up for Wednesday’s game, which was actually less than the 3,510 paid fans for last week’s Alabama A&M contest. The Aces are a team that so far, Buffalo aside, have beaten the teams they should but are without a signature win. Saturday presents that sort of opportunity when Murray State comes to down. The Racers are the centerpiece of this season’s non-conference home slate and should travel well to Evansville, but we’ll see if even UE’s fans travel well to the Ford Center. Since 7,358 showed up for the USI exhibition, weeknight crowds are in the 3,000s and weekends the 4,000s. Some may argue otherwise, but in a building the size of the Ford Center, a crowd of that size carry a small impact on a game’s outcome, if any.