CHICAGO(WFIE) - D.J. Balentine hit the game winner while a monster game by Egidijus Mockevicius saw him finish with 24 points and 16 rebounds as the University of Evansville men's basketball team hung on for a 74-73 victory over Loyola at Gentile Arena on Sunday.
Mockevicius led UE (20-7, 9-5 MVC) with 24 points and 16 boards, both game highs. He drained 11 of his 14 shots and had a season-high seven blocks. D.J. Balentine finished with 16 points while Jaylon Brown (12) and Blake Simmons (11) also registered double figures. For the Aces, it marks the first time they have won 20 regular-season games since 1999.
"I'm awful proud of our guys, its been a tough stretch for us. The first half was one of the best we played in a while. Give Loyola credit, they battled back and never gave up," UE head coach Marty Simmons said. "We did not execute as good at the end of the game, but I told the team after the game that they bailed us out."
Pacing the Ramblers (12-14, 5-9 MVC) was Devon Turk. He tallied 22 points, hitting seven shots and all six of his free throw attempts. Earl Peterson also finished in double digits, posting 15.
Egidijus Mockevicius had a dominant first half of play, draining 9 of his 12 attempts to finish with 19 points and 7 rebounds in his 17 minutes of first-half action. Blake Simmons got the squad rolling, hitting a pair of triples to give the Aces an early 11-2 lead.
Just as fast as UE got the quick start, the Ramblers battled right back. Devon Turk notched two triples of his own to help LUC tie the score up at 15-15. With the game standing at a 17-17 tie at the 11:16 mark, the Aces scored 14 points in a row. Mislav Brzoja had a triple in the run while D.J. Balentine converted an and-one as UE hit 6-of-7 attempts in the stretch.
The contest remained in double figures for the duration of the half as Mockevicius capped it off with a tip in at the buzzer to give UE a 50-36 advantage. Turk was the star for Loyola in the opening period, posting 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting.
An old-fashioned 3-point play by Mockevicius helped the Aces score the first five points out of the break to take their largest lead at 55-36 with 18:26 remaining in the contest. Neither offense was able to keep up its torrid first-half pace as the Rambler defense helped carve into the UE lead. With just over six minutes remaining, Loyola cut the gap to ten points for the first time since the first half as a Milton Doyle 3-point play made it a 65-55 game.
Simmons ended the stretch with a pair of free throws to enter double figures for the day, but Loyola kept battling. With 3:10 left, Turk struck again. His and-one cut the deficit to just seven (70-63) with three minutes on the clock. On the ensuing possession, things got even closer. Turk connected on two free throws following a UE technical foul and Montel James hit two more to make it a 70-67 game.
The lead was cut down to just one on a James layup with 1:29 left that made it a 72-71 game. He hit another one with 30 seconds left that gave LUC its first lead at 73-72. Balentine punched back seconds later as his teardrop in the lane put Evansville back on top. With ten seconds left, Loyola got the ball back down by one before being called for a 5-second call, giving the ball back to the Aces. On the inbound pass, the Ramblers wrestled the ball away to get one final possession with six seconds left. Tenacious defense by the Aces saw them force a tough Milton Doyle shot that fell just short, giving UE the 74-73 win.
A trip to Des Moines, Iowa awaits the Purple Aces as they will head there to play Drake on Wednesday evening in an 8 p.m. contest.