D.J. Balentine was the leading scorer once again, tallying 31 points on a 10-of-21 shooting day, but four Wichita State players finished in double figures as the Shockers took an 80-58 win in the second round of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament at Scottrade Center.
Evansville finishes its season at 14-19, but returns everyone next season, including Balentine, who will finish among the top ten scorers in the country. The Aces are also poised to add Villanova transfer Mislav Brzoja to their squad.
Balentine was the leading scorer in the game while Egidijus Mockevicius added 11 points and 11 rebounds for his tenth double-double of the season. Mockevicius led the MVC in shooting percentage and rebounding while finishing second in blocked shots.
Evansville’s defense held Wichita State scoreless for the opening two minutes while forcing three quick misses. D.J. Balentine got the Aces on the board in their first possession before Cleanthony Early gave the Shockers their first lead at 4-2 less than three minutes in.
A pair of triples saw Wichita State take their first lead of more than a possession as Ron Baker knocked down the first one of the day before Tekele Cotton hit the second giving WSU a 10-6 edge. That lead grew to 14-8 as the Shockers grabbed an early 5-1 advantage in offensive rebounds, which led to six second chance points.
Balentine willed the Aces back into it, scoring ten of UE’s first 14 points before Egidijus Mockevicius hit a nice shut from underneath the basket tying it up at 16-16 with 10:39 left in the half. The second trey of the day for Cotton put the lead back into Wichita’s hands on the ensuing possession.
UE fought back just two minutes later as Jaylon Brown hit a jumper from the free throw line to put the Aces back on top at 20-19. Cleanthony Early halted the rally, knocking down a trey before connecting on the ensuing free throw. His basket was the start of a 11-2 run that gave WSU its largest lead of the game at 30-22 with 5:43 left in the frame. Balentine drained his third 3-pointer which got UE back within five.
Wichita’s run continued, turning into a 22-11 stretch over the final nine minutes of the period. With 1:34 left, that edge reached as many as 13 points before Balentine hit his fourth triple to send the Aces to the locker room down just ten, 41-31. Evansville had a chance to get even closer after forcing a late turnover, but a layup at the halftime buzzer fell just short.
Balentine led everyone with 17 points in the half, knocking down 4 of his 6 3-point attempts. UE also led the rebounding battle at 17-15 including 6-6 on the offensive boards.
After the squads swapped 3-point possession to open up the second frame, another Balentine trey got Evansville back within eight points at 44-36. From there, the Shockers scored the next 13 points on their way to a 57-36 lead. The Aces missed seven shots in a row while Fred VanVleet capped it off with a 4-point play. Blake Simmons halted the rally with a pair of free throws.
The Aces hit just 2 of their first 15 shots in the second half, helping Wichita in their run. From there, it was all Shockers. Evansville got within 18 points while the Shocker lead reached 25 before the final 80-58.
Early and Baker tied for the team lead with 17 tallies while Cotton and Lufile added 11. WSU shot 51% on the day while holding UE to 37%. Evansville was just 8-30 in the second half. The rebounding battle was knotted at 36-36.