Stories from UE’s 82-70 loss to Murray State, the Aces’ second defeat in three games (and the Racers’ school-record 15th straight road win):
—Courier & Press: Murray State races back to win over UE
—Courier & Press: Weiler continues basketball education while teaching Racers
—Murray Ledger & Times: Racers come from behind for big win
—Murray State News: Racers complete comeback, earn road win against Evansville
—Will this be a special UE basketball season or just another one? Off a pair of 16-16 years, the Aces entered this season with expectations to compete for a Missouri Valley Conference championship, and understandably so with four scholarship seniors on the roster. But the Aces have had three chances now against marquee opponents — Notre Dame, Colorado State and Murray State — and came away with just as many losses. Butler remains as the last team on UE’s non-conference slate for the Aces to make a statement against before league play. Without a win over the Bulldogs, UE won’t prove to the rest of the MVC — or to itself — that competing Creighton, Wichita State and Illinois State for the conference title is a distinct possibility.
—The letdowns in most of the Aces’ games come in two areas: rebounding and shooting percentage defense. UE has been out-rebounded in each of its losses this season, and they’ve also allowed a half (the sloppy Notre Dame game aside) in which the opponent shot better than 54 percent. On Saturday, that was the Racers’ comeback second half in which they shot 66.7 percent from the field and out-scored UE 46-31. Crashing the boards and preventing easy shots were also weaknesses for the Aces last season, before center Egidijus Mockevicius came in as well as with other big men Ryan Sawvell and Jaylon Moore just freshmen. This is where UE needs to make strides. Against Murray State, the Aces got a combined 11 points and 9 rebounds from its centers and were led for the fifth time in nine games by senior guard Troy Taylor’s 12 boards. Compare that to the double-double effort by Racers power forward Ed Daniel (21 points, 15 rebounds) and the career-high 16 points from center Brandon Garrett.
—It’s easy to complain about seeing 6-foot-3 senior Lewis Jones getting continued playing time at the four spot. Jones went 1 of 7 from the field Saturday and didn’t grab a rebound in 28 minutes. But at the same time, it’s not as if coach Marty Simmons has many options. Jones knows the system and plays within it, which allows for games like he had against the Racers — four assists and no turnovers. The Aces’ staff could move the athletic, 6-foot-7 Moore to the four spot, but as he was Saturday, Mockevicius is prone to fouling and needs a true backup. Lately, that hasn’t been Sawvell, who’s played an average eight minutes over the Aces’ last three games. And sophomore Jordan Jahr’s minutes backing up the three and four spot have diminished as well over the past week.
—Senior Ned Cox blamed himself — said he let the team down — by not continuing to score Saturday after starting 7 of 7 from the field. Over the last 33 minutes of the game, Cox then went 0 for 4. When Cox goes cold or, really just sees fewer opportunities to shoot thanks to Murray State’s adjustments, you’d expect another player to step up and do the same. It’s a credit to the Racers’ defense that another player didn’t. Freshman D.J. Balentine saw a few shots and scored 15 points, but Murray State was the first team to stick to him in transition and not allow wide-open 3-pointers. Senior Colt Ryan also went for a quiet 13 points on 4 of 8 shooting, his chances limited by a Racers defense that stuck to UE’s star off screens and curls. No doubt about it — the Aces saw yet another team and defense Saturday that should be playing in March.
—One note about the officials: yes, they were awful. Neither coach Simmons nor Murray State’s Steven Prohm were asked about the stripes following Saturday’s game, but anyone who was in attendance saw that officials lost more than anyone. The crew — Craig Murley, Gene Grimshaw and John Dillon — has now officiated just 14 games among themselves this season, according to StatSheet.com. And that definitely showed, first when Murray State’s Daniel had a brush with the Ford Center camera man under one of the baskets, later when the agressive Daniel didn’t pick up a foul until the second half, and again when Mockevicius was whistled for two within seconds of each other, both iffy calls. It was one of those games where both coaches were unhappy, but with the final margin double digits, it’s tough to say how much calls could have played into the outcome.