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.
“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.”
“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.
ONE TO WATCH
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.