Five Purple Aces finished in double figures but it was not enough as Illinois State hit a late three in regulation before taking a 79-78 overtime win at Redbird Arena.
D.J. Balentine led all players with 22 points while Blake Simmons tied his career mark with 16. Tyler Ptacek scored a career-best of 12 while Adam Wing matched that. Egidijus Mockevicius was the fifth Ace (8-10, 1-4 MVC) in double figures with 10. He also led all players with a career-high 18 rebounds.
Zach Lofton led the Redbirds (10-7, 3-2 MVC) with 21 points while Daishon Knight checked in with 16. Evansville outshot the Redbirds by a 47%-45% margin and the Aces also owned the long ball, hitting 15 of its 30 attempts. Illinois State's advantage came on the boards as it finished with a 37-35 tally overall and 16-11 on the offensive glass.
Fresh off of the 33-point effort at Southern Illinois, D.J. Balentine came out firing, hitting all three of his opening 3-point attempts on his way to nine early points. Both teams combined to hit their first seven treys. The press of the Redbirds forced a pair of early Evansville turnovers as ISU hit 4 of its first 5 buckets en route to a 9-6 lead.
Balentine's third trey of the game helped UE tie the game at 11 before ISU opened up its largest lead of the half at 17-13 on a Paris Lee trey. A 11-3 rally by Evansville saw them take their largest lead to that point, also four points (24-20). Evansville connected on 4 of its 5 attempts over that stretch.
Illinois State made its way back into the game with the dunk, posting three over the course of three minutes. A half that featured nine lead changes saw it swap hands three times in the last five minutes before ISU settled for a 42-40 halftime lead. Three-point shooting helped both teams in the opening stanza as UE was 5-9 while Illinois State checked in at 6-of-14.
The Redbirds came out of the locker room picking up right where they left off in the first. They connected on their opening three attempts including the seventh triple of the night to take a 49-43 edge in the first three minutes.
Blake Simmons became the fourth UE player to get into double digits hitting a pair of treys. Those were the only two makes in the first ten attempts of the second half, but UE made three baskets in a row to cut the lead to 54-52 with 11 minutes remaining.
Just as fast as UE made its way back within a possession, the Redbirds fought right back, converting a pair of offense rebounds into four points to retake a 6-point lead at 58-52 two minutes later. Evansville utilized its strong 3-point shooting once again as Balentine and Tyler Ptacek knocked down back-to-back triples to get within two tallies at 60-58.
The score would remain that way until Blake Simmons hit a trey with just over five minutes left to put the Aces back on top at 61-60, their first lead of the second half. Over the scoreless drought, UE missed four attempts while ISU missed six shots. Zach Lofton ended a 4-minute scoreless drought, putting down two free throws at the 4:29 mark to help the Redbirds retake the lead. That lead lasted just a few seconds as Simmons struck again, tying his career-high of 16 points with his fifth trey to go up 64-62.
A trey by Knight, the second one of the latter half, knotted the game up at 67-67 with two minutes left. It would remain that way until 32 seconds remaining as Balentine drained his sixth trey of the game to give the Aces a 70-67 advantage. With 8 seconds left, Knight connected once again as his trey tied it up once again and send the game to overtime.
In overtime, the Redbirds scored six of the first eight points to take a 76-72 lead, but Ptacek got UE right back into it with his third three, but Lofton came right back with a triple of his own with one minute remaining to make it a 4-point game before Ptacek made ISU pay once again, knocking down another triple to make it a 79-78 game with 40 ticks left in the extra period. After forcing a miss, the Aces were unable to make their last shot, sealing the win for ISU.
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