Seniors D.J. Balentine and Egidijus Mockevicius finished with 23 points apiece as the University of Evansville men’s basketball team earned an 85-77 victory over Fresno State in the MVC/Mountain West Challenge at the Save Mart Center.
“Give those young men in the locker room. They got the job done,” Aces head coach Marty Simmons said. “Fresno State did a great job of battling back every time and we were able to hold them off. We did an outstanding job.”
Mockevicius had a game-high 13 rebounds while Balentine hit nine shots and registered five assists. Mislav Brzoja, who led UE (10-2) with 17 points a season ago in the Gulf Coast Showcase win over the Bulldogs (8-4), had 16 points. He knocked down three triples and all five free throw attempts. Jaylon Brown hit double figures once again, posting 12 and six assists on the day. Blake Simmons also registered six helpers.
A 0-for-4 start from the field saw the Purple Aces fall in a 7-1 hole in the opening minutes. Fresno State made five of its first seven shots as they would later lead by an 11-6 margin.
After making just two of its first nine attempts, UE got rolling as a Blake Simmons triple gave the team some momentum, bringing the Aces back within a 13-9 score. Down 18-13, Evansville made a major run as a 22-11 stretch gave UE a 35-29 lead with 3:53 remaining in the opening stanza. The Aces hit 6 out of 8 attempts over the stretch on the way to the advantage.
Fresno State roared back as an 8-2 run knotted it back up at 37-37 in the final minutes. Marvelle Harris was responsible for four of those tallies. Balentine put the Aces right back in front at 40-37 with his 17th point and second triple. Harris’ 18th tally of the game would tie it up and make it a 40-40 game at the break.
Just as they did three days ago, Evansville roared out of the half strong, posting the first ten points. Mislav Brzoja knocked down a pair of triples as the Aces took the largest lead either team enjoyed to that point. The Bulldogs missed their first four shots of the second half, but quickly knocked down four in a row to make it a six point game.
The lead fell to five points as Mockevicius got called for his fourth foul. Just when it looked like the Bulldogs would make a run, the Aces were able to extend their lead with him on the bench. Another Brzoja triple saw UE take a 70-57 with just under seven minutes remaining. Fresno State clawed its way back, trailing by only six with under two minutes left.
Evansville was able to overcome the rally and hang on for the 85-77 win. UE shot 49.2% on the day, including 55.6% (15/27) in the second half.
In just over 48 hours, UE will be back in action at the Ford Center as Alabama A&M comes to town for a 7 p.m. game. It will be the last non-conference game of the regular season as UE takes on Indiana State on Dec. 30.