With fouls mounting up and the game in the balance, the University of Evansville men’s basketball team was able to stand tall to earn a 66-56 victory at Bradley on Saturday afternoon at Carver Arena.
D.J. Balentine led all scorers with 22 points and his recorded double figures in all 16 games this season for the Purple Aces (12-4, 2-2 MVC). Egidijus Mockevicius finished the day with 14 points and 14 rebounds en route to his 11th double-double of the year.
“We challenged our guys to execute better at the under 4 timeout and they did. We had to deal with a lot of different things today with fouls and different lineups,” UE head coach Marty Simmons said. “I am proud of the way our guys responded. We still had way too many turnovers and gave up some offensive boards, but it is good to come out of here with a win.”
Neither team was able to find its rhythm early in the first half. The teams combined for seven turnovers in the first four minutes as the Aces held a 5-4 lead. With the score tied at 11-11 midway through the opening frame, the Aces made their first significant run of the contest. Evansville hit five shots in row to take its largest lead at 22-16. Their defense in the opening minutes was stellar, holding Bradley to 2-of-12 from the field to begin the game.
Balentine had three shots in row before Taylor Stafford capped off the stretch with his third 3-pointer of the year. UE continued to lead by six with seven minutes left (24-18) before the Braves went on a 10-4 run to tie it up at 28-28 four minutes later. It was the Omari Grier show as the junior hit six of his eight attempts in the first half to notch 13 points.
It was Balentine easing the pressure for UE in the final stretch of the half, posting six points in the final 2:48 to finish the period with 15 and send the Aces to the locker room up 36-32. The teams combined for 18 turnovers in the half. UE shot 59.1% in the frame while Bradley checked in at 42.9%. Aside from Grier, the rest of the Braves squad hit just six out of 20 attempts in the half.
Bradley hit its first two shots of the second half to knot the score at 36-36. On the next possession, Blake Simmons took his first shot of the game, draining a three that sent the Aces on a 9-1 run as they took their largest lead of the game at 45-37 inside of the 16-minute mark. Simmons struck again just minutes later as another trey gave the Aces a 9-point lead at 48-39.
An 8-1 stretch by the Braves saw them cut the gap to just two at the halfway point of the latter stanza at 49-47. Grier wrapped up the run with his seventh bucket of the tilt. Over that stretch, the fouls also started to pile up for UE as Simmons, Mislav Brzoja and Duane Gibson each were called for their fourth. The UE offense was 1-10 with a pair of turnovers as BU made its way back.
Jaylon Brown ended the stretch with 6:21 left as his shot gave UE a 53-48 lead. That edge reached seven at 57-50 with under four minutes left as Balentine hit his first shot of the half.
At the 2:05 mark, Balentine struck again. Rewind to two minutes prior as the Aces turned the ball over, but were able to force a jump ball. That paid off a few possession later as another jump ball gave possession to UE and Balentine hit an and-one to give the Aces their first double figure lead at 62-51. Bradley got within eight in the final moments before the Aces clinched the 10-point win.
Evansville shot an impressive 53.3% in the game, including 59.1% in the first half. UE was also credited with 17 assists on 24 makes. Brzoja posted 10 points and 7 rebounds to complete the double digit scorers.
Leading the Braves was Grier, who tallied 15. Tramique Sutherland registered 12 while Josh Cunningham had 10 points and 9 rebounds.
Following a trip to Missouri State on Wednesday, the Aces return home next Saturday to face Wichita State at 1 p.m. at the Ford Center. Tickets are available by calling 812-488-ACES or by visiting the ticket offices at the Carson Center on the UE campus or Ford Center. Fans can take advantage of a special 4 for $44 ticket deal where you receive a ticket to the game against the Shockers as well as the contests versus Southern Illinois and Indiana State. The final game of the 4-pack is your choice of any of the February home games (Illinois State, Missouri State, Bradley and Drake).