UE Men Travel To No. 3 Wichita State
February 1, 2014HOOSIER SPORTS 365
EVANSVILLE, Ind. – For the sixth time in program history, the University of Evansville men's basketball team will take on a top five opponents, traveling to No. 3 Wichita State on Saturday afternoon.
Tip is slated for 2 p.m. in front of a national audience on ESPNU and ESPN3 as the Aces look for their third win in a row over the Shockers.
D.J. Balentine put on a show, scoring 43 points at UNI, but a 17-for-33 effort from long range helped the Panthers take a 95-81 win on Wednesday. Balentine hit 10 out of 19 shots while going 19/21 from the line; Blake Simmons went 5-6 from the field to tally 11. Evansville played well in the game, shooting 52% while outrebounding the Panthers by a 33-27 final but the difference came from outside as UNI had seven different players record a 3-pointer.
Foul trouble plagued UE's post players as Egidijus Mockevicius fouled out while David Howard and Jaylon Moore each finished with four.
What else can you say about sophomore D.J. Balentine, who scored a career-high 43 points against UNI; Balentine hit 10 of his 19 shots while hitting 19-21 free throws. His performance tied for the third-best game in the NCAA this season. With his 43-point effort, Balentine has hit the 20-point mark on 15 occasions this season while scoring 12 or more in 21 out of 22 games this season. He continues to lead the MVC in scoring with 23.0 points per game while standing at 7th in the country.
A 19-21 effort from the charity stripe at UNI improved Balentine's season mark to 87.7%, second in the MVC. For the season, he has connected on 157 out of 179 attempts; the 157 makes rank third in the nation behind Antoine Mason of Niagara (186) and Patrick Miller from Tennessee State (158). He is on the cusp of moving into the top ten in free throws made in a season, just seven away from Marcus Wilson's 1998-99 season where he hit 165.
Freshman Blake Simmons has scored in double figures in five of the last seven games, averaging 11.4 points per game in that time, second on the squad behind just D.J. Balentine. Standing at 9.2 PPG, Simmons has established himself as a sharp shooter from outside; after hitting 13 triples in 13 non-conference games, Simmons has drained 13 in his first 9 league games, hitting a team-best 41.9% of his treys in MVC play.
Wichita State is one of just three undefeated teams in the nation as they stand at 22-0; No. 1 Arizona and No. 2 Syracuse are the others who have not lost a game. The Shockers were voted third in this week's USA Today Coaches Poll while they took fourth in the AP Top 25 following their run to the Final Four last season. Defense is one of the main strengths of the Shockers, who allow opponents to shoot just 39%, a total that is 20th in the nation; their 3-point defense is equally impressive as the opposition is shooting just 30.1% from long range, 24th in the NCAA. Along with the top rated defense in the MVC, they also bring a rebounding attack that averages 36.1 caroms per game and 5.3 blocks.
Preseason MVC Player of the Year Cleanthony Early paces the offense with 16.1 points per game; in Tuesday's victory over Loyola, Early was the lone double-digit scorer for the Shockers, scoring 23 on 7-of-14 shooting. Early also leads the squad in rebounding, hauling in an average of 6.7 per game.
Ron Baker checks in at 13.4 PPG; he was limited to just 18 games last season due to injury, but came back to average 11.0 PPG in the NCAA Tournament. Fred VanVleet has been one of the league's most impressive players this season, posting 12.8 points while dishing out a conference-high 117 assists.
Last season, the Purple Aces earned their first season sweep of Wichita State since the 1998-99 campaign, taking a 71-67 win at the Ford Center before hanging on for a 59-56 win at Koch Arena. The road win versus the Shockers was the first since Feb. 6, 2001 as WSU owns a 22-6 lead in the series and has won 14 out of 19 home contests versus UE.