NEW COLT IN TOWN
For four seasons, Evansville built almost everything it did around the offensive skill of guard Colt Ryan. He scored 2,279 points, sixth on the Missouri Valley Conference career list.
Exit Ryan. Enter D.J. Balentine.
He served as Ryan’s apprentice last season, averaging 8.1 points as Evansville’s top reserve. While the Aces are struggling, Balentine is doing his job as their main offensive threat. Balentine, a 6-foot-2 sophomore from Kokomo, Ind., led the MVC in scoring, entering Wednesday’s game at 22.4 points, making 43.4 percent of his three-pointers.
Like Ryan, he also does a lot of damage at the foul line. Balentine shoots 86 percent from the line and his 129 attempts rank second in the MVC.
“It certainly helped him to watch Colt and how Colt kind of handled his business and played within a system,” Aces coach Marty Simmons said.
Like Ryan, Baletine works within Simmons’ motion offense, running off screens, to create shots. When defenders help on those screens too much, Balentine can find inside scorers such as sophomore center Egidijus Mockevicius. Balentine ranks fourth in the MVC with four assists a game and fifth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.5).
“He can do it in a lot different views,” Simmons said. “He has a good IQ. He has good vision.”
Evansville finished 10th in the MVC in Ryan’s freshman season. With Ryan, Troy Taylor and Ned Cox all growing together, the Aces improved to third during their junior seasons and fourth last season. The current Aces, with no seniors and two juniors on the roster, are in a similar position. Balentine, Mockevicius, sophomore Adam Wing and freshmen Blake Simmons and Duane Gibson supply all the starts for the Aces except one.
FAST BREAKS• Kansas transfer Milton Doyle is living up to expectations at Loyola. Doyle a 6-foot-4 freshman from Chicago, averaged 14.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists entering Wednesday’s game against Drake. He is the MVC’s top freshman scorer and earned newcomer of the week honors three times.
“He’s an upgrade in terms of what we’ve been recruiting here,” Ramblers coach Porter Moser said. “I love the fact that he has really embracing trying to do other things than scoring.”• Missouri State guard Marcus Marshall was scheduled for surgery on his right knee on Wednesday. He suffered a torn meniscus during Saturday’s loss to Wichita State.
“We’ll know more about his prognosis after the surgery,” coach Paul Lusk said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate because he was just starting to get into a rhythm after his earlier injury, and it has been a fragmented season for him.”
Marshall missed four games with a sprained left knee. He averages 14.3 points. The Bears are also without senior forward Keith Pickens, sidelined by a stress fracture in his right shin.• Wichita State and Indiana State are on top of the MVC in women’s basketball, as well. Both teams are 3-0 entering the weekend. The Shockers, on a school-record 11-game win streak, own three road wins. The Shockers are home on Saturday against third-place Northern Iowa and Monday against Drake. Indiana State hits the road for the first time in MVC play, at Evansville and Southern Illinois.
ONE TO WATCH
Missouri State at Northern Iowa, noon Saturday (ESPNU) — Already two games back, the Panthers can’t afford a home loss if they want to remain in contention. Missouri State ends a killer start to conference play with its fourth road game in five outings.
IN THEIR WORDS
“I asked the guys if they were tired. Most of them said yes. I just educated them that they weren't tired — they just thought they were. We're trying to help them, keep practices short and not hit those dog days of January and February.” — Illinois State coach Dan Muller on managing fatigue for new players.