By MIKE SMITH
A number of factors pointed to the Evansville Aces being favored in their matchup against the Miami RedHawks Wednesday at Millett Hall.
- Evanville holds a 10-4 advantage in the series and has won the last three meetings.
- It returns the starting five intact for this season.
- Among the returnees is D.J. Balentine, who finished eighth in the nation is scoring last season.
The list could go on, but suffice it to say the RedHawks needed to be at or near the top of their game Wednesday.
Miami shot 39.6 percent for the game, including 34.6 percent (9 of 26) from the field in the first half. Evansville hit on 54.2 percent (13 of 24) in the stanza, yet MU still had a chance to tie or take the lead late in the period.
Miami took its time at the other end, but with the shot clock winding down, senior Will Sullivan attempted a three from the top of the key with seven seconds left. That try was blocked by Jaylon Brown, who got the ball to Mockevicius for another layup just before the buzzer, and Evansville took a 26-20 lead into the locker room.
Mockevicius, a 6-10, 225-pound center from Vilnius, Lithuania, went 6 for 6 from the field before intermission. His 12 points were nearly half of Evansville’s total. By game’s end, Mockevicius would register a double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
The ever-dangerous Balentine ended up scoring 19 points, but it was on 6 of 17 from the field (one trey) and 6 of 9 at the line.
Meanwhile, the trio of Mockevicius (17 points), Blake Simmons (12 points) and Adam Wing (9 points) combined for 38 points on 17 of 20 from the floor. Each missed just one shot on the night.
“When you talk about guys who take 20 shots between them and make 17, that’s hard to overcome,” Miami head coach John Cooper said. “They were very efficient with their game plan and … although Balentine struggled – probably for about two-thirds of the game – they had some other guys step up.”
After missing their only free throw of the first half, the Aces canned 10 of 13 in the final period. Add that to a 60 percent clip (15 of 25, 3 of 5 treys), and UE was in good position for a win.
Miami’s own stuggles compounded that. The RedHawks did raise their field goal percentage in the second half, making 12 of 27 for 44.4 percent. That included 2 of 7 (28.6%) outside the arc. They got to the line for nine shots, making five (55.9%).
Even though UE wasn’t getting a lot out of post-ups, it did plenty of damage off penetration and passes. The Aces owned a 46-34 advantage in the paint. They also helped themselves with 33-24 edge on the boards.
"That game was won for them in the paint," Cooper said. "Too many times they were able to drive us and break us down ... and all kinds of things can happen at that point."
"Our main goal was to stop Balentine, and ... he was just dumping it down and they were getting kind of easy layups," Miami guard Geovonie McKnight said.
Miami put two players in double figures. Junior forward/center L.J. Livingston was a perfect 6 of 6 from the floor and led the way with 12 points. But he was hampered by fouls and played 20 minutes with two rebounds and three blocks.
McKnight tallied 11 points on 5 of 14 from the floor and 1 of 2 charity tosses. Senior Will Sullivan, who led MU with 21 markers in its opener against Southern Utah, had nine points – all on treys (3 of 7 overall, 3 of 6 on treys).
Evansville never trailed in the contest, and there was one tie – at 2-2. Simmons scored on a layup at 9:03 to give the visitors their biggest lead of the first half at 18-9.
Miami chipped away and pulled within two (22-20) on a McKnight layup with 1:37 remaining.
Evansville added four more heading into intermission and quickly built its advantage to 11 points (33-22) on a Simmons jumper at 16:34. The closes MU could get after that was five points (35-30) following a McKnight free throw at 14:31.
Back-to-back threes and a Balentine layup accounted for scoring in an 8-0 run that put the lead at 52-37 with 7:58 remaining. The Aces maintained a comfortable margin the rest of the way.
Miami completes its season-opening homestand Saturday with a 3:30 p.m. tilt against Liberty.