ST. LOUIS, MO (WFIE) - Entering Arch Madness as the #10 seed, the University of Evansville men’s basketball team gave #7 Illinois State everything it had, but the Redbirds were able to hang on for a 65-60 win at the Enterprise Center on Thursday night.
“I thought we played a very hard-fought game. We played about as good as we could have; we had opportunities to win this game,” Aces head coach Walter McCarty said after the game. “I thought our game plan was very good and our guys did a nice job of following it. We had a few unlucky bounces that Illinois State was able to take advantage of.”
Marty Hill, one of four finalists in the Dark Horse Dunker competition, led the way with 16 points. He knocked down three triples. K.J. Riley finished with 15 points and added six more free throws to his season tally.
“We missed a lot of threes and ISU made a lot of tough shots,” Riley said. “We played well tonight, but it just did not go our way. I really wanted to win it for our seniors.”
Evansville missed its first 11 shots from the field, but the defense did a strong job as Illinois State took just a 7-1 lead. Just past the 5-minute mark, John Hall and Evan Kuhlman hit back-to-back buckets to get the Aces within two. The Redbirds continued to lead throughout the first half until the Aces made a run in the final four minutes.
Trailing 22-17 inside of the 4-minute mark, Evan Kuhlman and K.J. Riley hit consecutive 3-pointers to give Evansville its first lead at 23-22. An and-one by Riley on the next trip down the floor pushed the lead to 26-22, capping off a 9-0 run. Illinois State closed back in, but it was the Aces taking a 28-27 lead into the break. Riley led UE with nine points in the period while the team notched a total of 10 offensive boards in the first 20 minutes.
Illinois State rebounded in the opening moments of the second half as they opened up on an 11-2 stretch to go up 38-30 five minutes into the half. Evan Kuhlman made a big play to get UE back in it, knocking down all three free throws to cut the deficit to five, but ISU bounced back with six in a row to push their lead to double figures for the first time.
The Aces never gave up and closed back in. After trailing 44-33, Evansville rallied with 12 in a row while keeping ISU scoreless for five minutes. John Hall knocked down a pair of free throws, Hill had an and-one and Kuhlman capped it off with a bucket to put the Aces back in front by a 45-44 score with eight minutes on the clock.
ISU came back once again with a 9-2 stretch that pushed their lead to six points at the 5-minute mark. The Aces got back within three tallies on a Noah Frederking trey before ISU went back up by six in the final minute. Evansville never relented, showing the fight they have had all season. With 21 ticks left, Hall was true from outside to make it a one-possession game (63-60) once again, but ISU hung on for the 65-60 win.
Kuhlman and Hall each finished the game with ten points. ISU shot 36.2% for the game while UE shot 29.5%. The rebounded edge went to Illinois State by a 43-42 tally.
UE wraps up the season with a mark of 11-21, but has bigger things ahead with its returning core as well as newcomers Sam Cunliffe, Artur Labinowicz, DeAndre Williams, Peace Ilegomah and Marcus Henderson.
“I appreciate the efforts of our team, we got better each and every game of the season,” McCarty said when reflecting on the season. “Despite our record, it was fun to come to work every single day. It was a fun year and I have a great time coaching these guys. They were all very fun to be around.”