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EVANSVILLE, Ind. — If fans are looking for a reason to be optimistic after another close, gutting loss, there’s a trend emerging.
The Evansville Purple Aces are proving to be more competitive in their rematches with Missouri Valley Conference foes. They get blown out, then they compete down to the wire the second time around.
They lost their first game against Illinois State by 38 on the road and then won by three at home on Sunday. They also lost their first showdown with Northern Iowa by 22 points before having a chance to pull out a victory on Wednesday night.
Yet, UNI escaped Ford Center with a 64-59 win as the Aces once again couldn’t get over the hump in crunch time.
They’ve trailed by one basket inside the final minute four times in five MVC home games, but only once have they won. These nail-biting finishes are becoming repetitive.
“It’s kind of the way we play,” UE coach Todd Lickliter said. “They’re going to be close games and on Sunday, we made the plays. I still like this a lot better (than blowouts). We gave ourselves a chance. We did about all we could do to make it go our way.”
The Aces (5-14, 1-7 MVC) were down three points with a minute to go. But they missed a 3-pointer and a layup, so they had to foul to get the ball back. And because UNI (10-9, 6-3 MVC) made its free throws, it won't be counted as another one-possession loss.
They’re now 1-5 in games decided by five points or less, though.
They’ve also allowed opponents to shoot 48% or better in all seven of their MVC losses after UNI finished 51% from the field.
“You can’t play like that in the Valley and expect to win the game,” senior guard Jawaun Newton said.
UE trailed throughout, partly because it didn’t play well at the end of the first half. The Panthers finished on a 14-4 run after it was tied at 23 and the Aces’ deficit eventually reached 15 points.
Had UE played better in the few minutes before and after halftime, the Aces probably would have clinched back-to-back wins.
“We had a stretch over the last few minutes of the half where I don’t know if we lost our poise, but they gained control and that was almost the difference in the game,” Lickliter said. “Against any Valley team, possessions are so crucial.”
Blaise Beauchamp and Evan Kuhlman paced the Aces with 13 points apiece while Newton also finished in double figures with 12, though he shot just 5-for-16 from the field. Beauchamp was one point shy of his season-high, which came against UNI in the first meeting.
Shamar Givance scored five points in 23 minutes while Beauchamp saw 21 minutes off the bench. Givance had two early fouls and Beauchamp got hot immediately, as he finished 3-for-4 from beyond the arc.
“He gave us a lift in the first half, no question,” Lickliter said.
Newton added: “I shot the ball awfully and Shamar couldn’t get in rhythm because he was in foul trouble, so it was good for Blaise to come off the bench and help us score.”
UNI standout AJ Green led all scorers with 18 points to snap a two-game skid for the Panthers. They had lost both times in overtime and faced another potential extra period Wednesday.
The Aces simply couldn’t find that final clutch shot despite making 11 3-pointers, one shy of their season high. It’s the first time in MVC play they made double-digit threes.
“We haven’t been shooting the ball all season long,” Newton said. “We’re worst in the conference at shooting threes and that’s our game. Hopefully, we get that turned around soon.”
The Aces also played in front of the smallest crowd in recent memory. Of course, attendance was limited last season because of the pandemic, but Wednesday’s announced crowd of 2,770 is the lowest since Ford Center opened a decade ago. The season-average is now 3,152 per game, the lowest since 1956-57.
UE will have another tough test ahead this weekend at Missouri State, which is up to 52nd in the KenPom rankings while UE is 302nd.
The Bears (15-7, 6-3 MVC) are coming off a letdown loss on Tuesday at Indiana State after they defeated Loyola over the weekend. But the Aces will have their hands full guarding three-time defending MVC Player of the Week Isiaih Mosley, who’s averaging 21.1 points and has scored 40 twice in conference play.
Mosley leads the MVC in scoring. Illinois State’s Antonio Reeves is second – he averaged 19.5 in two games against UE last week – while UNI’s Green is third. He matched his season average with 18 points per game against UE.
At least the Aces are used to planning for high scorers.
“You just want to make it as tough on everybody as we can,” Lickliter said. “In our system, it’s not one person stopping another person. We need to have all five alert with the proper amount of support. And the one who is guarding the (top scorer) will have his hands full, but we’ve been competitive with them.”
This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: Evansville basketball: Aces lose to UNI in another close game