Stories from UE’s 62-59 win at Northern Iowa, the Aces’ third straight in Missouri Valley Conference play:
—Although UE shot 76.4 percent as a team on free throws last season, the Aces’ rate from the charity stripe hasn’t been a strength of this season’s squad until recently. When UE lost at Colorado State on Dec. 1, the Aces went 6 of 12 from the line, and the team’s season percentage stood at 66.3 percent. Now it’s up to 74.8 percent, third in the MVC behind Creighton (75 percent) and Northern Iowa (75 percent). That statistic won the Aces Wednesday night’s game. They made all 11 of their free throws in the second half — seven in the final five minutes — while Northern Iowa missed the front end of two one-and-ones in the last minute. Good free throw shooting is a culture on coach Marty Simmons’ team. Look for more in Friday’s paper.
—All 10 players who saw the floor for UE on Wednesday logged at least 10 minutes. There’s not a statistic to back this up, but that doesn’t happen often for underdog teams playing conference road games (Northern Iowa entered a six-point favorite). Still, the Aces played together. The offense executed — a coach-speak word, yes, but the motion worked like a machine for the first 30 minutes. If anything, the performance showed that some of UE’s key reserves — namely sophomores Ryan Sawvell, Jaylon Moore and Jordan Jahr — can have off nights and not see 10 minutes. That doesn’t mean those players aren’t capable, but Simmons has the depth to pick and choose his bench minutes based upon matchups more this season than probably any other.
—UE is starting to see the benefits now of relying on four seniors. Off a win in which they each scored in double figures, Colt Ryan had 21 points, Troy Taylor 11, Lewis Jones 9 and Ned Cox 8 to lead the Aces’ scoring. Even more, when Northern Iowa rallied from 14 points down, UE had the poise to hold on for the win. Ryan hit a bucket with exactly 5:00 left, and Jones added a basket/foul with 27 seconds to go — the only UE field goals as the Panthers ran all the way back. But each of the seniors made at least one of the Aces’ seven free throws down the stretch. Meanwhile Northern Iowa started all four of its veterans for just the second time this season, adding 6-foot-10 center Austin Pehl to the lineup. But rather than use the size, the Panthers attempted 25 3-pointers. Thanks to a consistent lineup, UE knew its strengths. Northern Iowa is still learning in league play.