Stories from UE’s 81-58 loss to East Carolina in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament’s semifinals:
—Saturday’s game is one UE fans will probably forget soon enough given how the rest of the Aces’ CIT run went. And that’s a good thing, because that type of outcome isn’t indicative of how UE played this season. The only other game the Aces just never had a shot at winning was the Missouri Valley Conference opener at Creighton, with three freshmen contributing in a 17-point loss on the road. Even a double-digit loss at Drake came after UE led itself in the first half. So it was an unceremonious end, sure, but not one that defined the season.
—There’s so much that can be said about the Aces’ senior class, but one statistic stands out. Those players lost 21 games as freshmen and won 21 this season. That, along with the fact that UE now plays in the Ford Center and privately funded a new practice facility, means the seniors definitely left the program better than they built it. What sticks out with these seniors as much as the win/loss record is community connection. Take for example how many people stuck around for speeches after the Indiana State game. A lot of that comes from Colt Ryan, now being the Aces’ all-time leading scorer, as someone fans feel the need to support through thick and thin. That link needs to be developed with future classes as well. Fan favorites Egidijus Mockevicius, D.J. Balentine and Adam Wing seem to be off to a good start.
—So what about the future? Obviously, the Aces need scoring. But coach Marty Simmons said Saturday, after speaking to his team in the locker room, that he’s going to emphasize toughness. Until someone can step up and create shots consistently on next year’s team, the Aces will likely bank on playing some low-scoring, defensive-minded contests. Keep opponents from driving the lane (and step in to take a charge if they do), alter shots, and rebound. Those were all weak spots in the Aces’ losses this year. With recruits Duane Gibson, Jaylon Brown and Blake Simmons coming in next season — all described as athletic players — UE can make improvements.