Stories from UE’s 87-70 loss to Creighton in Omaha:
—Courier & Press: Creighton deals UE its worst defeat
—Omaha World-Herald: Bluejays roll past Aces in Valley opener
—Associated Press: McDermott helps Creighton stave off UE
—UE student Bryce Weiler: Evansville drops Valley opener
—The good news after that loss for Aces fans? It only gets easier from here. UE couldn’t have earned a tougher draw for its Missouri Valley Conference opener than against the best Creighton team in a long time and in front of the second-largest Bluejays crowd ever. Creighton was picked to win the league, and along with All-American Doug McDermott features all-MVC center Gregory Echenique. That post tandem exposed UE’s biggest defensive weakness — at least until some of the Aces’ big men develop — and it all happened on the road. Wichita State will be tough. So will Illinois State. The rest of the league? It won’t be anything like the buzz saw UE ran into on Saturday..
—The Aces lost what was possibly the most Troy Taylor game ever. From the moment Creighton drew away to its largest lead in the second half, to as many as 21 points, UE really didn’t have much of a chance to come back. But the senior guard Taylor kept driving in a game where not everyone showed up to play (Ned Cox went scoreless for the first time since his sophomore year) and others didn’t get a chance to play (off three straight double-figure performances, Ryan Sawvell logged just eight minutes). Taylor is high-energy and high enthusiasm. He is what coach Marty Simmons wishes the Aces’ big men would be on the boards. And in recording the program’s second-ever triple-double, Taylor rewarded himself for the effort.
—More on the boards. It seems the Aces’ woes are very fixable. Just box out rather than jump for the ball. You see Taylor do it. Others do it sometimes. Why can’t they do it all of the time? UE’s coaching staff will readily admit its team isn’t going to push anyone around in the post and win games that way. Points come by maximizing every possession through an offense that’s tough to defend when working in sync. But if a team can’t rebound — simply put, can’t get enough possessions — it won’t score enough to win a game. At least not against a team such as Creighton, which lost this season only to a Boise State team that shot 60 percent. UE helps itself in terms of turnovers, committing just 11.5 per game. With the Aces’ system, better rebounding is the next step to beating a marquee opponent.
—As senior Colt Ryan becomes healthier, UE is reverting back to its form pre-hip pointer injury, when the Aces overly relied on their leading scorer to put the ball in the hoop. Ryan matched a season high with 25 points against Creighton, yet UE’s other two players averaging double figures — Cox and freshman D.J. Balentine — didn’t register a point. Credit Creighton for that, but at the same time, that can’t happen to the Aces against anyone. And they can’t go 3 of 14 on 3-pointers against a team that makes half of its own long balls. That Miami (Ohio) game aside, when UE hit 14 triples, the Aces haven’t had any consistent stroke, even on wide open shots. It’s at least a little concerning as they approach the halfway point of the season along with MVC play.
—Regardless of whether Missouri State beats Southern Illinois Sunday, UE’s game Wednesday against the Bears is a must-win. Off back-to-back 16-win seasons, the Aces had higher aspirations this year, and rightly so. But the way the MVC is shaping up, another .500 season seems possible — maybe even something worse, without the prospect of postseason play. That’s not the way UE’s seniors — Ryan, Taylor, Cox and Lewis Jones — want to go out. As UE’s record creeps ever closer to the .500 mark at 7-6, that should serve as motivation moving forward.