Saturday followed a similar story: a sluggish start, then a rally to make the game competitive before ultimately letting it slip away. The University of Evansville men's basketball team had a near-perfect start to the second half, using a 14-2 run to cut into Northern Iowa’s lead.
But the Panthers largely kept the game out of reach from the opening moments.
The Purple Aces suffered their third loss in a row, falling 72-55 to UNI in Cedar Falls, Iowa. UE has not won a true road game since the season-opener at Miami (Ohio) and remains winless in Missouri Valley Conference play.
Although the Aces cut the Panthers’ lead to six in the second half, the trend remained the same. Had UE not played as poorly as it did at the start, going into halftime with an 18-point deficit, the outcome may have been different.
Yet, another loss came in the same fashion as many of the others. The Aces never led on their way to their first wire-to-wire loss of the season. The defeat was UE’s fourth by double digits.
Here are three reasons the Aces are now 2-8 overall.
Trends continued throughout
UE’s 41.6% effective field-goal rate was the program's lowest in the KenPom era entering the day, and then the Aces shot 37%, including 4-for-21 from the 3-point line. Poor shooting has been the story throughout the first 10 games.
“I thought we got good, quality shots throughout the game. We just obviously didn’t make the ones we needed to, open 3s,” UE coach David Ragland said during his postgame radio interview. “The right pace, the right shots. Guys are playing extremely hard, still getting good stuff.”
UE has been competitive defensively, which has shielded some of its offensive deficiencies. Over these two MVC games, however, the defense has slipped. Southern Illinois shot 50% from deep at Ford Center on Wednesday and UNI to fared 40% from the 3-point line on Saturday.
The Aces had seven assists to 11 turnovers. The Panthers had 17 assists and 11 turnovers. Ball movement is stagnating.
Before the conference games began, UE was competitive in every contest. These first two in the Valley? The Aces have been only truly competitive in the second half against UNI. By the time that started, they were already trailing by 18.
“(UNI) came out on fire,” Ragland said. “They were ready to go, they hit some good shots.”
Bowen Born scored 29 points for the Panthers. UE held him to seven in the second half, but the Aces have struggled against players like Born who can step out and hit 3-pointers. UE is ranked No. 287th nationally in defending the perimeter, per KenPom.
“He’s a good player. He’s small in stature, but he’s big in heart,” Ragland said. “They punched us in the mouth early. … The start can get you, and they had a really good start.”
UE outscored the Panthers 35-34 in the second half but can't seem to find any consistency.
“We went into the positive after (UNI’s) first run,” Ragland said, “but just not enough four-minute games put together to really help us get over the top.”
Missing pieces: UE was without leading scorers
Forward Yacine Toumi missed Saturday for health and safety protocols, and his absence was felt immediately. He did not travel with the team to Iowa.
While Toumi hasn’t shot at a great clip from deep, he has the capability to hit threes and the Aces noticeably missed his presence inside. UE was out-rebounded 42-31 and outscored 34-30 in the paint.
This came after Friday's news when UE announced junior guard Blaise Beauchamp left the program, meaning the Aces were without two of their top three scorers. Beauchamp was one of the Aces’ biggest 3-point threats despite UE ranking No. 344 of 363 Division I teams in 3-point percentage.
Without those two offensive sparkplugs, UE gave some additional time to those who have not been regularly featured. Chris Moncrief played a career-high 17 minutes and had some bright moments, particularly on the defensive end, showing that he could benefit from more action.
“Chris Moncrief is more than ready,” Ragland said. “I thought he really helped us with his energy and effort. Actually, subbing him in really helped stop the run in the first half.”
Outside of Moncrief, who Ragland said had worked his way into the regular rotation while at the multi-team event in Savannah, Georgia, no one was given many additional minutes. Logan McIntire played just four while Zaveion Chism-Okoh and walk-on Cameron Gehlhausen did not see the floor.
The Aces have three more non-conference games — home against Campbell and then at Ball State before hosting Bellarmine — before diving fully into MVC play.
UE has played stronger against non-league foes to this point, but the second half against UNI could show some promise. The Aces need to build momentum before the Valley slate is all that’s left.
UE has shown, in stretches, it can compete. The Aces outscored UNI in the second half, played well for a large portion against Saint Louis, and probably should’ve left Savannah with more than one win. The key, as it has been since UE walked off the floor against Miami, is getting over the similar story and putting together a full performance.
“Just with the whole team playing confident, playing free, playing for each other, we’ll continue to compete,” Ragland said. “Just give ourselves opportunities to pull this thing together and string together some wins.”
This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: 3 reason Evansville men's basketball lost to Northern Iowa