Stories from UE’s first MVC win at SIU yesterday:
–The Aces looked a lot more loose, relaxed, and confident than they had since they started 5-0, and now with a conference win under their belt, that feeling will continue. D.J. Balentine looked like his typical self when looking to shoot and Egidijus Mockevicius was a force inside — 12 points and 10 rebounds is nothing to scoff at even if Balentine had 33 points — and had a key and-one in the final minutes of the game to preserve the lead. Blake Simmons had a solid performance and Duane Gibson and Adam Wing contributed when needed. It was a good effort by the five starters.
–That being said, UE still has a lot of work to do. Balentine can’t drop a career-high every night and the defense can’t take 10 minutes to adjust on the opposing team’s shooters. The Aces started out lead-footed and left open shooters in the beginning of the game, allowing Southern Illinois to go on an 11-0 run early.
–The bench was also absent from the game. With Jaylon Brown out with a concussion, UE played just four reserves and Tyler Ptacek was the only player off the bench with points. Brown, when he’s in, Jaylon Moore and Christian Benzon typically score on energy plays, but I guess those aren’t needed when Balentine’s hitting six of his seven 3-pointers. Usually the bench is a factor, as I’m sure it will be moving forward.
–Gibson and Wing were very important in the final minutes of the game. The freshman was 6-for-6 down the stretch while Wing hit both of his free throws to maintain UE’s four-point lead. The Salukis had two 3-point plays in the final minute of the game in efforts to chip away at the lead point-by-point, and missed free throws would’ve kept SIU in the game longer than they were. Saturday was the first time we saw clutch free throw shooting in over a month — it’ll also do wonders for the team’s confidence from the line, as they’ve been struggling lately.
–Maybe bowling worked? We won’t know for sure until Wednesday. One game is a good start, but UE’s next game against Illinois State will be the true sign of whether or not the Aces are back to competing like they have shown.
–Head coach Marty Simmons’ first thoughts about the win: “I’m just happy for the guys in the locker room. We’ve had a slow start here and those guys have hung in there and keep battling and they’re a good group and just glad to see them get a victory.”
–Wing on the Aces’ zone: “The zone was really good to us, they hit some big threes and we haven’t played zone all season. We had been planning for it the past two games but we just got so far behind that when we got in the zone they could just pick us apart.”
–SIU head coach Barry Hinson on scouting Balentine: “We obviously didn’t. Seriously, he had 33 points, so whatever we said didn’t work.”