Sophomore D.J. Balentine tied his career-high with his second-straight 29-point game as the University of Evansville men's basketball team took an 84-78 victory over IUPUI on Tuesday evening at The Jungle.
Balentine hit 7-of-14 shots for UE (2-0) but equally important was his perfect 12-for-12 effort from the free throw line. A pair of freshmen tallied 15 points apiece as Duane Gibson and Blake Simmons accomplished the feat. Gibson posted 15 points to go along with 6 rebounds and 4 assists. He hit 9 of his 11 free throws. Simmons hit six out of 11 attempts on his way to his top collegiate effort.
Sophomore Adam Wing had eight points while tying his career-best with a team-high 8 rebounds.
IUPUI (0-2) drained its first three shots of the game on its way to an early 7-2 lead before D.J. Balentine got going in a big way, scoring 10 in a row, including a 3-pointer that gave Evansville its first lead at 10-9.
As part of a 17-4 run, the Purple Aces went up by a 21-13 score as Egidijus Mockevicius hit his first bucket of the game on a great assist from Duane Gibson. With 8:31 left in the first half, Mockevicius struck again as his layup put UE up by double figures for the first time at 27-17.
The lead would reach as many as 12 points before the Jaguars fought their way back within four points before settling for a 6-point deficit (44-38) as the half. Balentine was stellar in the opening frame, posting 19 points to lead all players. He hit six out of eight shots while going 3-3 from long range. Khufu Najee had a strong half; after scoring just two points in the Jaguars' opener at Utah Valley, he was 5-5 in the first half, leading the Jaguars with 12 points.
Out of the break, Evansville extended its lead to nine points in the first three minutes as Blake Simmons hit a pair of shots, including a great shot with a helper from Adam Wing as UE went up by a 48-39 score. As they did in the first half, the Jaguars continued to battle in the second as Donovan Gibbs knocked down a pair of free throws to get within four points at 54-50 with about 12 minutes remaining in the game.
In what was a hard battle for the duration of the contest, but UE slowly pushed its lead back to ten points in the next four minutes as Simmons' 10th point made it a 65-55 lead inside of eight minutes left. The foul count in the half began in favor of IUPUI by a 13-3 tally, which made a difference down the stretch.
Four quick points off of a UE turnover led to a 3-pointer by Ian Chiles, who scored five points in a row before Najee hit a layup to give the Jaguars their first edge since the opening four minutes of the game at 66-65. It marked an 11-0 run for IUPUI as 5:07 remained on the clock.
With adverse conditions facing them, the young Aces showed the poise of a senior laden squad. Gibson stepped to the line and confidently knocked down two free throws to put the Aces back on top. With 3:51 remaining, Chiles knocked down his second trey of the game to tie the game up at 69, but that would be the final tie of the game.
Evansville scored the next seven points, a rally capped off by a Simmons three to make it a 76-69 game. The Jaguars hit consecutive threes in the final 21 seconds, but the Aces calmly all eight free throws in the final 40 seconds to seal the win.
In the second half, UE was a perfect 17-for-17 from the free throw line while finishing at 90.3% (28-31) for the game. For the night, the Aces shot 53.1% in a win that marked their fourth in the last five road outings. It also marked the first win for UE in their road opener since the 1999 season. On the other side, the game was the first loss in IUPUI's home opener since that same season.
Three Jaguars finished the night in double digits, led by junior Ian Chiles, who scored a career-best 28 points on an 11-of-21 shooting night. Najee tallied 19 while Gibbs finished with 18.
The Aces have six days to prepare for their next game, which will take place on Monday evening at the Ford Center when Mercer comes to town. It will mark the first of four games in the Ohio Classic.
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