In a wild contest at the Ford Center, D.J. Balentine scored 38 points as the University of Evansville basketball team overcame a late rally by Illinois State to hang on for a 104-98 overtime victory on Wednesday evening.
Evansville (11-15, 4-9 MVC) held a lead of as many as 25 points in the second half, but Illinois State (13-12, 6-7 MVC) showed great fight, rallying for a 37-13 over the final eight minutes to send the game into overtime. In the extra period, UE sealed the win as Jaylon Brown hit four late free throws to finish off the contest.
Balentine scored his 38 on an 8/15 effort from the field while making 20 out of 25 free throws, both career highs. His 20 makes ties Matt Webster's single game school record, which was set on Dec. 16, 2006 versus Lipscomb.
Offense was the story early on as the Aces knocked down three of their first four shots en route to an 8-2 lead in the opening three minutes of play. Egidijus Mockevicius was responsible for five of those tallies while D.J. Balentine added a 3-pointer.
Paris Lee added a triple of his own at that point before the Aces pushed their lead into double figures for the first time with 15 minutes left in the half as Blake Simmons hit the third trey of the game to give UE a 20-9 lead. His bucket capped off an 8-13 start from the field for the Aces.
Evansville's lead continued to grow as the offense kept its shooting around 50%. Just over 13 minutes into the contest, Jaylon Moore dunked a missed bucket as the UE lead grew to 20 points at 39-19. Balentine hit all five of his free throw attempts in the run. As the period wound down, Evansville took its largest lead of the day at 49-25 as Mockevicius moved into double figures for the third consecutive game.
Bobby Hunter knocked down a late three, but the UE lead held strong at 54-33 heading into the locker room. Balentine finished with 17 points in the first half alone while he joined Mockevicius and Simmons in double figures for the third game in a row. One of the main stats that stood out for UE in the first half was rebounding as the Aces held a 22-12 advantage at the break while hitting 4-of-7 triples as opposed to a 2/11 start from outside for the Redbirds.
A 10-4 run to open up the second half saw the Redbirds get within 15 points at 58-43. After hitting just 2 of their first 11 treys, they connected on their first two of the second half to cut into the UE advantage. Four minutes into the half, it was Daishon Knight hitting his fourth shot of the game as the Redbirds cut the gap to 14 at 61-47 finishing a 14-7 run.
The momentum started to swing back in Evansville's direction at that point as they went on a 13-2 run to match their largest advantage at 74-50. Balentine posted seven in the rally as the Aces held ISU to just 1/7 shooting while forcing a pair of turnovers. Mockevicius added a free throw to mark the largest advantage of the contest for the Aces at 75-50 with just under 11 minutes remaining.
With the lead still holding strong at 24 points at the 8 minute mark, Illinois State came away with three points on four out of five possessions as they scored 14 out of 16 points to get within 12 at 83-71. Nine of those points came courtesy of Nick Zeisloft, who hit a pair of three's in the run. After UE scored three in a row, it was Zeisloft striking once again as his third triple cut the gap back to 12 at the 4 minute mark.
Zach Lofton took over the long range shooting for Illinois State as he knocked down a pair of treys before his layup with 1:39 on the clock tied it up at 89-89. In total, the run was a 32-8 stretch over the course of seven minutes. At one points, they connected on 8 out of 12 shots with six of those coming from long range.
As one of the top five youngest teams in the country, it gives young guys a chance to step up in a big spot. That is exactly what Blake Simmons did with 79 ticks on the clock. He calmly stepped to the line and knocked down both attempts as the lead went back to UE.
It was short-lived, however, as the Redbirds took their first lead of the night with 58 second left as Zeisloft was true from outside once again. After not taking a shot in the first half, he made it 4-5 from outside to tally 18 to that point in the second. On the ensuing Aces possession, Balentine hit both free throws before knocking down 1/2 seconds later to make it a 94-92 game, but the game was extended into an extra session as Knight hit a pair of free throws with under 20 seconds left. UE missed its three field goal attempts in the final five minutes while turning it over four times. The squad also missed five free throws over that span.
Mockevicius posted his 18th tally as his bucket opened up the overtime scoring before two Knight free throws tied it up at 96. Forward to the 1:09 mark - with pressure in his face, Balentine made it a 38-point night and after an ISU turnover, Jaylon Brown put a hard-fought game on ice in the final 21 seconds as he hit all four free throw attempts to make it the final 104-98.
Three Aces had double figures at the half and that is how it finished. Aside from Balentine's 38, Mockevicius finished with 18 while Simmons tallied 17. Mockevicius, who is the most accurate shooter in the Valley, added to that statistic with a 7-9 night. He also finished with a team-high 7 rebounds and two blocked shots. Balentine and Adam Wing each dished out five helpers.
The rebounding battle went the Aces' way as they finished up 38-34 in that department. They also improved to a perfect 4-0 when scoring 90 points or more this season. The offense shot 51.9% while the defense held ISU to 43.3%.
UE's 104 points marked the most since scoring 115 at Hawaii-Hilo on Nov. 28, 1998 and was the most versus a Division I opponent since taking a 111-69 win over Chicago State on Nov. 28, 1995. It was the most against a conference opponent since taking a 115-104 road win at Loyola on 2/25/89 and was the highest home conference output since a 109-83 win over Dayton that same season. Of significance in that game was Scott Haffner's school record of 65 points.
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