ST. LOUIS, MO (WFIE) - The University of Evansville men's basketball team overcame a 17-point deficit to take a late lead, but a shot at the buzzer by Wes Washpun gave UNI a 56-54 win over the Purple Aces in Sunday's Missouri Valley Conference Championship game.
"Congratulations to UNI and Coach Jacobson, they do things the right way and I have a ton of respect for them," Aces head coach Marty Simmons said. "As I told our team in the locker room, I could not be more proud of a group of young men as I am ours. The resilience they showed to fight back was great. Our young men earned a lot of respect from a lot of people around the country for how hard they fought."
Trailing 35-18 early in the second half, the Aces (25-9) made a furious rally and took the lead with two minutes left. UNI (22-12) did not give up, tying the game back up before Waspun hit the game-winner at the buzzer.
D.J. Balentine registered a game-high 20 points in the game, hitting 8 shots while dishing out 5 assists. Jaylon Brown posted 18 in the game, hitting 7 buckets. Both were named to the All-Tournament Team for their efforts. The duo also combined to score the final 28 points of the game for UE.
Egidijus Mockevicius reset his own Arch Madness St. Louis mark, hauling in 19 rebounds. Mockevicius recorded 18 on Friday against Missouri State as he now has the top two rebounding efforts since Arch Madness moved to St. Louis in 1991.
UNI had the upper hand in the first half as their defense held the Aces to just 23.1% shooting in the period while taking a 32-18 lead into the halftime break. Jaylon Brown broke a scoreless tie at the 17:16 mark as he hit the first bucket of the game. The Panthers came back with five in a row before Blake Simmons hit a three to tie it up.
Over the next four minutes, UNI reeled off eight in a row, including three free throws by Wes Washpun and a triple courtesy of Wyatt Lohaus to go up 13-5. The Aces got mired in a 1-for-12 stretch from the field as the Panthers were able to extend their lead to as many as 17 points at 26-9 inside of six minutes remaining.
Evansville fought back to get within 12 in the final two minutes before UNI extended its lead to 14 at the half.
After the Panthers went back up by 17 at 35-18 in the opening minutes of the second half, the Aces fought their way back. A triple by Brown combined with four tallies from Adam Wing saw UE cut the gap to single digits at 35-26 with 16:08 remaining. The run continued as a Brown layup got the Aces within four at the 9:43 mark before the gap was cut to a possession with 6:52 on the clock after a Brown triples.
With 3:39 left, Balentine struck again as his bucket gave the Aces their first lead since 2-0. That field goal gave UE a 48-47 edge. The teams would swap the lead two more times before a Washpun jumper put UNI up 54-52 with 50 ticks remaining.
On the ensuing possession, Balentine drew a foul and hit both free throws to tie it up as 25 ticks were left. UNI played it out and a miracle shot from Washpun hit the rim, bounced up, then down through the net to give UNI the win.
UE will have a week to await its postseason destination. Stay tuned to GoPurpleAces.com for full coverage.