Aces end Panthers’ postseason run

Jehad Abbed, Assistant Sports Editor

Junior center Egidijus Mockevicius led the University of Evansville men’s basketball team to an 83-68 win over Eastern Monday in the second round of the CIT at Lantz Arena.

Cornell Johnston, a freshmen guard, runs around a defender in the men’s basketball game Monday in Lantz Arena against Evansville. Johnston had a total of 7 points in the game.
Kevin Hall
Cornell Johnston, a freshman guard, runs around a defender in the men’s basketball game Monday in Lantz Arena against Evansville. Johnston had a total of 7 points in the game.

Mockevicius finished the game with 21 points and a game-high 16 rebounds while shooting 7-of-12 from the field. He averages 12.2 points per game and 9.8 rebounds on the season.

Junior guard D.J. Balentine led all scorers with 22 points on 50 percent shooting including 4-of-7 from three-point range.

“You don’t want to shoot a lot of shots to get a lot of points,” Balentine said. “My biggest thing is I always like to shoot less shots to get more points.”

Eastern coach Jay Spoonhour said the Panthers have been good against the offenses they typically see, leading the Ohio Valley Conference in points allowed per game.

He said guarding the Aces’ motion offense and a player like Balentine leads to a “long day.” Senior guard Dylan Chatman compared Balentine’s style of play to former Indiana Pacer Reggie Miller.

“I knew he was going to have a quick trigger and can shoot anything,” Chatman said. “Once he got it, he did pump fake a lot and I wasn’t ready for that.”

Chatman led all Eastern players with 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting from behind the 3-point line. Chatman said he was more focused on his defensive priorities coming into the game, but ended up with the hot hand offensively for Eastern.

Spoonhour said he told the Eastern seniors they would not want to look back on their career and wish they had shot the ball more.

“Dylan took me at my word,” Spoonhour said. “He got 10 threes up. He didn’t even wander inside.”

He said The Aces do a good job of not giving up many good shots inside the 3-point line.

Junior forward Chris Olivier was the Panthers’ second leading scorer with 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting after making only 1 shot in the first half.

The Panthers shot 40.3 percent for the game, with 11 of their 25 made shots coming from the arc.

“That’s coaching,” Spoonhour said. “They don’t let you go and get anything easy.”

Evansville opened the second half with an 11-2 scoring run capped off by a mid-range jumper from sophomore guard Duane Gibson, giving the Aces a 19-point lead.

The Panthers trailed by as much as 25 points nearly six minutes into the second half.

Balentine said the Aces’ coaches told them to continue their play from the first half and to “put the pedal to the metal” coming out of halftime.

“We kind of got a history of letting teams come back after we’ve got up big,” he said.

Balentine knocked down a 3-point shot just before first half ended and give the Aces a 37-27 lead heading into the locker room. Balentine averages 19.4 points per game.

Evansville finished the first half shooting 46.4 percent and making 4-of-11 from 3-point range.

Mockevicius led the Aces in with nine points and eight rebounds on 50 percent shooting in the first half.

“(Mockevicius) finished a lot better than he has here recently,” Balentine said. “I think he played fantastic.

Senior guard Reggie Smith left the game early with an injury to his shin after putting up a season-high 26 points in the Panthers’ previous game in Round-1 of the CIT.

“He’s been really good all year. He’s been really steady,” Spoonhour said. “I hate the fact that it happened to him.”

Spoonhour said the injury hurt Eastern’s depth causing players like Chatman to play nearly every minute of the game.

Spoonhour is optimistic about next season despite the departure of four seniors along side Chatman.

Chatman said he thinks the Panthers have a bright future after making a postseason tournament for the first time in the school’s Division-1 history.

“This year was just the start,” Chatman said. “Next year I expect more from the team.”

Eastern ended its season with an 18-14 record including wins in the first rounds of the OVC tournament and the CIT.

Jehad Abbed can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].