No. 9 seed Evansville knocked off No. 8 seed Drake, 69-61, in the MVC Tournament first round Thursday. The Aces advance to the quarterfinals Friday, where they face No. 1 seed Wichita State.
“Just excited to have the opportunity to play again,” head coach Marty Simmons said.
Drake (15-16, 6-12 MVC) opened up with a 12-6 and kept their lead until Evansville (14-18) tied the score at 19-19 with 9:10 until halftime. The Aces used a 19-2 extended run to take a 33-21 lead with five minutes until the break. They took an 11-point lead into halftime.
Evansville led by as many as 15 points in the second half, but Drake fought back to make things close. The Bulldogs trailed 58-52 with 8:49 left but never got closer.
Sophomore guard D.J. Balentine led Evansville with 30 points and four assists. The game marked Balentine’s 20th 20-point game of the season as he joined Evansville’s 1,000-point scorer club.
“My teammates do a great job, and coaches always put me in a great position to score and get going early,” Balentine said. “I think that helps my a lot confidence-wise and scoring.”
Sophomore center Egidijus Mockevicius nearly recorded a triple-double with 19 points, 10 rebounds and eight blocks. The eight rejections set a MVC Tournament record since the tournament moved to St. Louis.
Drake senior Richard Carter competed pound for pound with Balentine, posting 26 points and seven dimes. Carter scored nine of Drake’s first 12 points, but the Aces shut him down for the rest of the half as they built their lead.
“Richard is a great, phenomenal player,” Balentine said. “I thought we started with the zone and packed the defense in.”
Evansville faces Wichita State, undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the country, on Friday. The Aces gave the Shockers a good fight twice in the regular season but ultimately fell well short of an upset both times.
“They are a team that doesn’t beat themselves,” Balentine said of Wichita Sate. “They’re very strong defensively and rebounding. We just can’t beat ourselves. We’ve got to take care of the ball. We’ve got to rebound. They’re undefeated for a reason.”