The Morning After: Valparaiso

Sawvell tallied 14 points in his 16 minutes off the bench, both highs for the season.

Sawvell tallied 14 points in his 16 minutes off the bench, both highs for the season.

Stories from last night’s 100-92 win over Valparaiso:

–Courier & Press: http://bit.ly/18r4oxj

–Post-Tribune: http://bit.ly/18b9IqX

Some observations:

–That was a very solid Valparaiso team the Aces beat last night. The Crusaders were the two-time defending regular-season Horizon League champions and has an outstanding freshman forward in Alec Peters, as shown by his 30-point performance last night. Valpo is now 2-3 after losing three straight to Illinois, Ohio and Evansville by 12, four, and eight points, respectively — respectable losses against tournament teams. Come March, this win will be one that sticks out.

–Holy D.J. Balentine. The sophomore guard started off hot from the floor, scoring 16 points in the first 12 minutes of the game, including a 4-for-4 mark from beyond the arc and a perfect 10-for-10 from the free throw line. Valparaiso starts three players over 6-foot-9, which allowed Balentine and the other guards to attack off the dribble, and that’s Balentine’s specialty. And when the Crusaders went to zone, Balentine sat outside the 3-point line and made them pay. It’s just too bad his perfect 29 points per game average was ruined.

–And not to be outshined by Balentine was the Aces’ bench. Junior forwards Ryan Sawvell and Jaylon Moore. Sawvell played a season-high 16 minutes while contributing a career-high 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting and Moore had a couple of baskets early and played better defense against the Crusaders’ big men than any other forward or center on UE. He’s the most physical post player for the Aces by far.

–Can’t forget sophomore forward Adam Wing, who’s having a fantastic sophomore campaign. He scored a career-high 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting and knocked down all six of his foul shots. Wing is by far the most efficient scorer for UE, shooting 70.4 percent from the floor.

–Though UE played a solid first half, the Crusaders made their second-half surge as always, scoring 62 points. That’s ridiculous. The Aces still shot over 50 percent in the second half but took 11 less shots while Valparaiso knocked down nine of its 12 total 3-pointers in the second half, four of which came in the final four minutes of the game. It also turned three UE turnovers — seven of its nine total came in the second half — between the 7:40 and 3:44 marks of the second half into 11 points thanks to full-court pressure and rookie mistakes by the Aces. UE did a fine job handling the ball for most of the game, but when the Crusaders made their run, they stumbled a bit. That’s just a sign of a young team; it should only get better from here.

–One more concern (again): Sophomore forward Egidijus Mockevicius. Where’s the Mockevicius from the Illinois-Springfield exhibition game, where he held his own against the Prairie Stars’ big man? He got in foul trouble yet again and scored just one basket that came off of a dunk with under six minutes to play to extend UE’s lead to 17 points. Mockevicius also didn’t have a rebound. With Valparaiso’s big lineup, you’d expect him to have made a bit more noise, but I guess his lack of production is a reason he only played 16 minutes while Sawvell and Moore did a better job on both sides of the ball.

Some quotes:

–Balentine on Valparaiso’s second-half comeback tendencies: “We watched film on it, we see that they come back a lot. It’s really on us. We need to maintain what we did in the first half and we didn’t really do that that well tonight, but we got the job done. That’s all that matters.”

–Head coach Marty Simmons on the tale of two halves for the Aces: “We really felt like in the first half we got by — they missed some shots, they weren’t finishing. We didn’t feel really good at half, defensively, and we just felt a step slow. We have to get better at that. We have to get back to fundamentals with stance, with jumping to the ball, helping on the penetration — all the little things. On a positive note, our guys kept playing the game. We kept scoring the basketball.”

–Sawvell on the Crusaders’ ability to get to the basket: “That was one of the huge things we were talking about in practice (Wednesday) was that they’re a driving team. We knew they were capable 3-point shooters — we weren’t expecting Peters to be shooting that well at the end of the game, he was lights out — but that was the biggest thing in the game plan.”

–Simmons on the five players in double figures: “If we’re going to be successful, we have to be unselfish. We have a lot of guys on this team who can score the basketball. We don’t need guys looking to make plays for themselves. If we just take what the defense gives us, we have a lot of weapons.”

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