ST. LOUIS, MO (WFIE) - Sophomore Dru Smith tallied 20 points while senior Duane Gibson posted 14, but UNI proved to be too much as the University of Evansville men's basketball team fell to the Panthers by a 60-50 final in Thursday's Arch Madness opener at the Scottrade Center.
In his second game back, Smith went 7-of-13 from the field to notched the 20-point outing. He also led the Aces (17-15) with six rebounds. Gibson was 6-8 from the floor to finish with 14. For the first time this season, Ryan Taylor was held to single digits as he was 1-for-13 from the floor to finish with two points.
"It was a tough game for us, you have to give Northern Iowa credit. I thought they really defended us well and their physicality was evident tonight," Aces head coach Marty Simmons said. "This is not how we wanted our season to come to an end. I am really proud of our team and players. We had to battle through some adversity, but I am thankful our guys come to practice every day ready to work."
Wyatt Lohaus was the scoring leader for the Panthers (16-15), notching 15 points. Hunter Rhodes scored 14. Bennett Koch and Klint Carlson each had solid games for UNI. Koch had 8 points and 11 rebounds while Carlson finished with 9 tallies and 10 caroms.
Duane Gibson had a great start to the game as he finished the first half with 12 of the Aces 24 points. UNI scored the first five points of the game including a triple by Hunter Rhodes. Blake Simmons got Evansville on the board with a bucket at the 18:12 mark.
A hot start for the Panthers continued as they connected on two of their first three field goals to begin the game and take a 7-2 lead. Back-to-back Gibson buckets cut the Evansville deficit to one at 7-6. UNI used the 3-point shot to push its lead up to seven with Austin Phyfe and Tywhon Pickford each draining one to make it a 15-8 game with 12 minutes left in the period.
UNI continued to lead by at least two possessions until the final two minutes when the fifth shot of the game found the bottom of the net for Gibson to cut the deficit to three at 25-22. The Panthers punched back to push the lead to nine – the game high to that point – thanks to an and-one from Klint Carlson. Dru Smith hit a bucket in the final seconds to make it a 31-24 game in favor of UNI at the break.
Aces junior Ryan Taylor was held scoreless in the first half and the team tried to get him on the board early in the second half as he took the first three shots. None were able to find the bottom of the net and UNI took advantage, pushing the lead to 10 on a Bennett Koch bucket two minutes in.
Taylor knocked down his first shot at the 15:15 mark to get the Aces within six – 34-28. Wyatt Lohaus helped the Panthers push their lead back to double figures midway through the second half when his shot made it a 42-30 game. The first triple of the day for the Aces was a big one by Dru Smith that cut the lead back to single digits.
With under seven minutes remaining, Smith's free throws made it a 7-point game. The deficit for UE remained between 7 and 9 points until a Lohaus trey pushed their lead to 51-39 with 4:14 on the clock. Their lead remained in double figures for the remainder of the contest as the Panthers finished with a 60-50 win.
The Panthers shot 40.4% for the game while holding the Aces to 38.2%. Evansville finished the first half at 42.3%, but dropped to 34.5% in the second stanza.
Tonight's game marked the final for seniors Gibson, Blake Simmons and Dalen Traore. After the game, Gibson commented on his career.
"Everything went by so fast. It was a very special time for me. I am extremely appreciative of the opportunity that I had," he said.