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Aces Beat Oakland, Lose to Butler

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On Tuesday evening Evansville hosted Division II Oakland City at the Ford Center. Evansville was able to pick up a 103-69 victory over Oakland City. This was the first time Evansville scored 100 points or more in a game since November 19, 2004, when the Aces scored over 100 in a season opening victory against Central Michigan. The Aces started the game off strong as they were able to build a 19-point lead over the Mighty Oaks. The Oaks cut the lead down to 11 at the under 8 minute media timeout. Evansville was able to push the lead back to 19 points at halftime.  It was key for the Aces to come out strong to start the second half so the Aces could rest the starters for the upcoming contest with Butler. The Aces were able to do this and the starters were pulled early in the second half giving them time to rest before the Butler game.

Marty Simmons liked how the Aces outscored Oakland City 14 to 0 in fast break points. “We’ve worked really hard in the past few weeks to be a good transition team. As you can see, we’re still having a hard time getting them to do it. I don’t really understand that. That’s the way we saw we want to play. That’s the way we practice, and too many times, as a staff, we’re trying to get them to buy into it.” Ryan Sawvell believes it is important for Evansville to continue sharing the ball to help the Aces offense to run as a cohesive unit. “We were all sharing the ball really well. We were hitting people for open 3’s and finding each other in transition.  Coach is always talking about playing fast and aggressive. That’s how he wants us to play, and we’ve got to make good decisions with the ball.”

On Saturday afternoon, Evansville played Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Butler was coming off of a victory over the top ranked Indiana Hoosiers. This was the final chance for Evansville to come up with a signature non-conference victory, which is important in tournament selection. Evansville had beaten Butler in the two previous meetings; one to open up the Ford Center last season and a game at Hinkle Field house two years ago. Evansville had an early 9 to 3 lead with 17 minutes remaining in the first half. Then, Lewis Jones picked up his second foul and Marty Simmons put him on the bench for the next 10 minutes. Throughout this time, Butler chipped away at Evansville’s lead and the Bulldogs’ gained their first lead with nine minutes remaining in the first half. Butler’s largest first half lead was 9 points, which Evansville cut to 4 at 35-31 at halftime.

During the second half Evansville picked up an early fourth foul against Alex Barlow who was the unlikely heroes from the Indiana game. This forced Barlow to the bench and the Aces had a chance to capitalize with him out. The team did this to a certain extent and cut the Butler lead to as little as 5. Just as when the Aces were at Colorado State, 5 points was the closest Evansville would come to leading in the game as Butler escaped a pesky Evansville team with a 75 to 67 victory.

Marty Simmons believed Evansville needed to execute better for a full 40 minutes instead of just a partial game. “We’ve got to be able to execute better for 40 minutes. We did a lot of good things, and that’s one – being resilient there and not giving up. But it’s just little things against good basketball teams that you cannot do, or they’re going to punch you in the mouth.” Butler coach Brad Stevens was proud of how his team came back from an early six-point deficit to Evansville in the first half. “We didn’t do a good enough job of getting the ball inside for the first 30 minutes. Then once we did, we sort of separated ourselves a little bit. They put us in tough spots. Another one of the things that’s unheralded about Evansville is they turn you over.”

Ned Cox believes there were times when Evansville showed fight, but the Aces are still not doing this for a whole game. “There were times that we did show fight, but we’ve got to be able to do that for the full 40 minutes. There were too many times when we let up and let them extend that lead a little bit. Then we’d have to try to come back. We just have to be able to put multiple possessions together and not have those let-up segments.” Simmons thinks Clark is an important player in the Butler offensive sets because of how he can run the offense as well as his three point shooting which he demonstrated hitting the game winning three earlier in the season in a Butler victory over Marquette.“He’s given them such another dimension with his ability to shoot from 30 feet and in. It really stretches you. It stretches your bigs up there to give support on the high ball screens. I thought for the most part we really did a good job. They’re such a versatile team that can put so many different lineups out there.”

The leading scorers for Butler were Andrew Smith and Rotnei Clark who both scored 20 points apiece for the Bulldogs. The leading scorer for Evansville was Colt Ryan who finished the game with 25 points. The Butler defense concentrated on guarding Colt Ryan throughout the game. At a point in the second half, four out of the five Butler team fouls had been obtained by either stopping Ryan to the basket or fouling him when trying to guard him. If teams are going to guard Colt Ryan so tightly this should open up chances for other players to score with so much defensive attention being placed upon Ryan.

With the end of non-conference play, Evansville has not shown that the Aces are going to make any improvements over last season. They have not beaten any high mid-major opponents, losing to Colorado State, Murray State, and Butler. In its only chance against a BCS opponent Evansville lost to Notre Dame at the beginning of the season. With these losses Evansville has not improved its resume for postseason play. The Aces will have to perform at a high level and obtain some victories over teams such as Creighton or Wichita State to have a chance at making the NIT. Evansville will almost certainly have to win the Missouri Valley Conference tournament to make the NCAA Tournament. The Aces senior leaders have shown signs of leadership at points throughout the season, but the team has not responded. D.J. Balentine has been a nice surprise for Evansville as the freshman has stepped up as a leader for Evansville on the court. Evansville will need these players to play a larger role heading into conference play and a road game at Creighton on Saturday December 29. Picking up a win at Creighton will be tough, but it has been done before this season as Boise State has defeated the Blue Jays on their home floor earlier in the season.

Written by theSPORTSfeast Evansville Insider Bryce Weiler

Photo Courtesy of “The Sports Beast” James Range

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