UE Basketball opens MVC slate against #23 UNI - Tri-State News, Weather & Sports

UE Basketball opens MVC slate against #23 UNI

EVANSVILLE, IN (WFIE) -

In a nationally-televised tilt, the University of Evansville basketball team opens up its Missouri Valley Conference schedule on Thursday evening against #23 Northern Iowa at 7 p.m. inside the Ford Center.ESPN3.com will have live coverage of the game. 

Up by as many as 19 points in the second half, the Purple Aces were able to hang on to defeat Coppin State by an 85-80 final on Sunday. The Eagles rallied from their deficit to go up by a point in the final minutes before UE rallied back. 

D.J. Balentine scored a season-high of 32 points in the win, his 8th 20-point game in a row. Egidijus Mockevicius notched his 8thdouble-double of the season with 15 points and 10 rebound while Blake Simmons notched his fourth double-digit scoring effort in a row with 13.

Evansville sits at 10-2 for the fourth time in its Division I era and the first time since going 11-2 to begin the 1988-89 season. The other such starts were a 14-2 beginning in 87-88 and 12-2 in 1981-82. A pair of milestones for the program came about thanks to the start - UE has recorded 10 wins before January 1 for the first time and also reached the 9-win plateau prior to Christmas for the first time in program history.

UNI comes into Thursday's MVC opener ranked 23rd in the latest polls. UE is 2-2 versus ranked opponents at the Ford Center, the wins came against Creighton in 11-12 and Wichita State the next season. Overall, the program is 15-48 in 63 contests against those who are ranked.

Thursday's game against UNI will open up the 21st season of Missouri Valley Conference play for the Aces. In its previous 20 league openers, UE has gone 8-12; Evansville is 11-9 in its home MVC openers and 3-17 in its opening road contest. The game will mark the fifth time in six seasons that the Aces have played a game on New Year's Day, they split the first four. 

This will mark the third time in that span that UE has faced the Panthers on Jan 1.; the squads split the last two such games. Between 1973 and 2009, Evansville played just one game on January 1.

Over the first 20 minutes of the contest against Coppin State, D.J. Balentine posted 20 points on his way to a season-high of 32. Balentine has now scored 20 or more points in each of the last eight games, just one behind a streak of nine by current UE coach Marty Simmons in 1988. His recent streak has vaulted him into the top ten in the country as he ranks 5th with 22.5 PPG.

One of the top players in the nation just happens to be the starting center for the Purple Aces. Egidijus Mockevicius has registered eight double-doubles in 12 contests. Mockevicius has done it all on each side of the floor; he is the #2 shooter in the nation at 67.7% while ranking 16th with10.2 rebounds per game and 6th with 8.08 defensive caroms per contest. His eight double-doubles ties him for fourth in the nation - the most any UE player has had in a season since 1977 has been 12.

Entering MVC play with an 11-1 overall mark and a #23 ranking in the country is Northern Iowa. The lone loss of the season was a double overtime defeat at VCU; wins for UNI include Virginia Tech, Northwestern, Richmond and Iowa.Seth Tuttle has been an extraordinary player for UNI in his 3+ seasons and is doing so once again; he leads the Panthers in scoring (14 PPG), rebounding (6.2/gm) and shooting (62.5%). Tuttle is ranked in the top ten in the MVC in all three categories. Wes Washpun is just behind Tuttle in the scoring department with 11.8 per game.

Provided by UE Sports Information Department

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