In a wild finish between No. 4 seed Evansville and fifth-seeded Indiana State, Justin Gant hit a free throw with 2.5 seconds remaining to give the Sycamores a 51-50 victory on Friday afternoon at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
Down as many as ten in the second half, the Aces (18-14, 10-8 MVC) fought back to take the lead, but a late back-and-forth matchup saw the Sycamores (18-13, 9-9 MVC) hang on for the win.
"It was just a tough grind it out, physical basketball game," UE head coach Marty Simmons said. "I thought both teams were giving tons of effort out there; I am very proud of our team and the way they hung in there and battled back."
Colt Ryan got UE on the board as the Aces took the early 4-0 lead. The Sycamores bounced back to take a 5-4 lead before Troy Taylor drained his second field goal to put UE back on top in the opening five minutes.
Later, with the score tied at 12, Evansville reeled off the next four tallies to take its largest edge at 16-12, but Indiana State fought back to take their largest lead of 27-23 inside the final minute. Devonte Brown, who finished the half with a game-high 11 points, scored five in the final 2:29 of the period. A late bucket by Ryan sent UE into the half down by a pair at 27-25. He finished the period with eight points while Taylor had six points and six rebounds.
Egidijus Mockevicius hit a pair of free throws to tie the score in the opening moments of the second half, but Jake Odum scored five quick points for the Sycamores as they extended their lead to six points at 37-31 inside of 15 minutes remaining. Ned Cox ended the stretch with his first trey of the game. Indiana State continued to roll as they hit four shots in a row en route to a seven-point lead with 12:46 remaining.
When R.J. Mahurin notched his second trey of the day to put ISU up ten, Mockevicius scored five in a row to bring the Aces back. After he picked up his fourth foul with eight minutes remaining, it was another freshman who continued the run as D.J. Balentine knocked down back-to-back threes to cut the gap to one at 46-45 with 7:14 left.
Just over a minute later, it was Taylor posting an and-one to put UE back on top at 48-46, capping off a 14-2 run. Indiana State rallied back as they regained a 50-48 lead with 4:32 remaining as Manny Arop hit two free throws.
Neither offense was able to do very much in the final minutes as the teams combined to finish the game making 2 out of 18 shots. Following Balentine's second trey, UE finished 1-of-8 while the Sycamores were just 1-10. Balentine hit a floater with 3:04 left to tie the game up at 50 and that is where the excitement began.
All six shots the teams put up over the remainder of the contest were no good, but each squad had its opportunity to win it. As just over a minute was shown on the clock, a pair of Colt Ryan shots were no good. After a missed trey by ISU, the Aces had the ball back and went to the foul line with 22 ticks on the clock, but missed both attempts, giving the ball back to the Sycamores. Just 2.5 seconds were left when Mockevicius was whistled for a foul, sending Justin Gant to the line. He missed the first before knocking down his second attempt.
With just one more chance, the Aces put the ball in the hands of Adam Wing on the throw in. He hit Ned Cox, who was cutting to the basket, but a layup at the buzzer fell just short giving ISU the win.
The future looks extremely bright for the Aces as their freshmen were huge in the first trip to Arch Madness. Mockevicius led everyone with 11 points while tallying seven rebounds on a 4-for-5 shooting performance. Balentine posted a 10-point effort while tallying four caroms. Taylor finished the outing with 9 points and a game-high 10 boards.
Devonte Brown notched 11 points to lead the Sycamores while Mahurin had 10. ISU finished with a 35-34 edge on the boards while out-shooting UE by a 38.3%-35.7% margin.
With an 18-14 record, the Aces now await a potential postseason tournament bid. Details of any potential tournament will be announced as soon as they are available.
Courtesy: UE Sports Information Department
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