Senior D.J. Balentine became just the fourth player in University of Evansville men's basketball history to score 2,000 points as the Purple Aces defeated Norfolk State by a final of 84-70 on Thursday night at the Ford Center.
"It’s a heck of an accomplishment for D.J., it is something to be proud of. He deserves all of the credit for the work he has put in," head coach Marty Simmons said. "D.J. has had a knack of being able to put the ball in the basket in a variety of ways."
A pair of free throws with 9:22 remaining gave the Kokomo, Ind. product 20 points in the game and 2K for his career. He is just the 16th player in MVC history and 32nd among all Division I schools in Indiana to hit the mark.
"We came out and had a strong start in the second half. Coach says that the first four minutes of the half are the most important and we were able to do that tonight," Balentine said. "It was exciting to hit the milestone tonight, I knew I was close when I got fouled and was able to hit both free throws."
Balentine led the way with 26 points as the Aces (9-2) shot 60% on the night. Jaylon Brown had a career-high 17 points, hitting 7 out of 11 shots. He also had four assists. Egidijus Mockevicius recorded his 9th double-double of the year with 14 points and 10 rebounds while Mislav Brzoja finished the evening with ten.
Both offenses were cranking in the first half as the Spartans shot 53.6% and Evansville finished at 60%. With UE holding an early 6-4 lead, Jonathan Wade gave NSU its first edge of the day at 7-6. Evansville took the lead right back as triples by Balentine and Harris Brown gave the Aces their largest lead at 14-9.
Norfolk State punched right back, hitting four out of five shots to take a 20-18 lead. They would later lead by six at 37-31 on a Jeff Short layup in the final two minutes. A Mockevicius dunk, coupled with a Jaylon Brown triple at the buzzer, cut the gap to one at the break, 37-36.
On the first play of the second half, Adam Wing hit a layup to give UE its first lead since the 8:53 mark of the opening period. That was the start of a 7-0 run as Balentine hit another triple to open up a 43-37 lead.
The run continued as the lead would reach double figures for the first time at 55-45 on an and-one by Willie Wiley. After the Spartans got within five, D.J. Balentine scored the 2,000th point of his career on a free throw. Those points spurred a run that saw the Aces go up 70-56. From there, UE would lead by as many as 17 points before picking up the 84-70 victory.
Jeff Short was the leading scorer for Norfolk State (4-7) as he notched 22 points. As a team, NSU shot 52% from the field while hitting six triples.
Evansville will play at Fresno State on Sunday at 3 p.m. CT/1 p.m. PT. Fans can watch live on the Mountain West Network, which is a free stream through themwc.com or listen live on 91.5 FM WUEV.