Stories from UE’s 59-56 win Wednesday at Wichita State, the Aces’ third in a row:
—Courier & Press: Nelson plays key role UE’s victory at Wichita State
—Wichita Eagle: UE thwarts Shockers’ regular-season MVC title push
—The third seed for Arch Madness isn’t out of the question for UE after Wednesday’s victory. That’s where the Aces would find themselves for the second year in a row should they beat Indiana State on Saturday and Northern Iowa lose to Illinois State. If Northern Iowa beats Illinois State, the winner of UE-Indiana State gets the fourth seed and the loser the fifth. There’s no scenario left where the Aces will have to start their MVC tournament run on Friday. It’s three games in three days for a team that’s on its first three-game winning streak since the beginning of league play. Not a bad time for UE to have that working.
—At this point, is there any reason other than preseason media hype that Creighton junior Doug McDermott absolutely has to be the Missouri Valley Conference’s Player of the Year? Believe me — I think a media campaign to crown a mid-major star won McDermott the award before a game was ever played this season. But should UE senior Colt Ryan continue to play at this pace — he scored 29 points in 39 minutes against Wichita State — there’s no reason Ryan shouldn’t shouldn’t be in the hunt for the award. Despite essentially missing four games, Ryan sixth in minutes played. He’s the MVC’s second-leading scorer, the top free throw shooter, fourth in assists and assist-to-turnover ratio and sixth in steals. The main thing Ryan’s missing at this point is “Creighton” across the front of his jersey. That and a whole lot of national press clippings.
—With two games guaranteed and a third likely through a postseason tournament appearance, the 6-foot-5 forward Ryan is also 95 points away from becoming the Aces’ all-time leading scorer. He’s already the top scorer in the program’s Division I history, but the No. 1 spot is well within reach. Ryan’s taken his scoring abilities seemingly to another level during this year’s MVC slate, where a pair of 13-point outings are pedestrian compared to 33 against Drake, 31 against Illinois State and now 29 versus the Shockers. With second-leading scorer Ned Cox out for who knows long due to foot injury — it does seem likely Cox will play some Saturday — the Aces are relying on Ryan more than ever to carry the scoring load.
—Who knew it would be sophomore Jordan Nelson knocking down clutch shots with Cox out? Maybe not even Nelson. It’s something the Aces say they see every day in practice — the reserve acting as one of the league’s best shooters — but that didn’t translate to a game until Wednesday, when Nelson broke an eight-minute scoring drought with his 3-pointer and later hit another jumper as part of a 7-0 UE run that put the Aces back in front for good. Nelson scored five points, and while making his first start, freshman D.J. Balentine added all nine of his points on a trio of 3-pointers in the first half. Nelson gets knocked for his height, but coach Marty Simmons went with the 6-footer on the Aces’ final possession as they fended off a pair of potential game-tying Shockers shots. Neither were good looks.
—On Wichita State’s senior night, UE started three freshmen: Balentine, Egidijus Mockevicius and Adam Wing. Do they really seem like rookies any more? Maybe only Mockevicius, who struggles sometimes to get into a rhythm while fighting foul trouble. Wednesday’s game was another case of that, as the 6-foot-10 center went 0-for-4 from the field and played just 12 minutes. But Mockevicius has also seen multiple 35-plus minute games. Balentine looks like the Aces’ top returning scoring option. And Wing is like an amped up version of senior Lewis Jones — an all-around player who’s physical enough to screen but has the touch to shoot from anywhere on the floor.