Aces clinch CIT Championship with 71-65 win over NAU
Posted: Thursday, April 2, 2015
EVANSVILLE, Ind. – For the first time in the Division I era, the University of Evansville men’s basketball team has won a postseason championship as they defeated Northern Arizona by a final of 71-65 to earn the CollegeInsider.com Tournament Championship on Thursday at the Ford Center.
Evansville, who finished the season 24-12, had a stellar 5-0 run through the event. Leading the way on Thursday was Egidijus Mockevicius. He set his career mark with 27 points while totaling 12 rebounds and four blocked shots. His first block of the game in the first half was the 200th of his career. D.J. Balentine finished the night with 16 points while Jaylon Brown had 10.
For head coach Marty Simmons, it was a priceless experience to bring a championship to his alma mater.
“I am so happy for our players and program, this is a great victory for us,” Simmons said. “This gives us a lot to build on for next year.”
Egidijus Mockevicius got the Aces on the board on the opening possession before scoring the first five points of the day for the Purple Aces. Both squads began the day 3-for-8 from the floor, leading to a 7-7 score just over four minutes in.
A Jaylon Moore dunk sent UE on a 6-0 stretch as they took a 13-7 lead. After hitting their first two shots of the day, NAU made just one of their next nine as UE took back the lead. A 6-1 stretch saw the Lumberjacks get within one at 14-13 before the stretch was ended by another Mockevicius layup.
Jordyn Martin knocked down a layup to give Northern Arizona a 17-16 lead at the 6-minute mark before the squads swapped the lead once again. With just over two minutes remaining in the half, Mockevicius hit a layup on one end and followed that up with the 200th block of his career. Back on the offensive end, he hit an and-one to put UE up 25-21.
Evansville ended up finishing the half on a 7-0 stretch as D.J. Balentine knocked down a pair of free throws in the final minute to send the Aces to the break up 29-21. UE shot 40% in the first half while the defense was solid, holding NAU to 35.7%. Mockevicius led everyone with 13 points and six rebounds at the break.
In the first possession of the second half, Martin struck again, hitting an old-fashioned 3-point play to cut the gap to five at 29-24. Evansville was able to regain its 8-point lead at 32-24, but a 5-0 spurt from the Lumberjacks got them right back into it. Adam Wing ended the stretch with a bucket at the 16:20 mark.
Quinton Upshur hit the first trey of the night for either team on the next trip down the floor as they got back within a pair at 34-32. A quick 5-0 spurt saw the Aces extend the lead to seven. Mislav Brzoja found a cutting Blake Simmons for two of those points.
A pair of offensive rebounds by the Lumberjacks led to three second chance points as NAU utilized an 8-0 run to retake the lead at 40-39. Ako Kaluna finished off the stretch with a triple. Jaylon Brown ended the run with a nice jumper inside the free throw line to put UE back on top at 41-40 with 11:40 left in the game.
Aasseem Dixon put the lead back into the hands of the Lumberjacks, recording the third triple of the game for NAU as they took a 43-41 lead. A pair of free throws saw NAU takes its largest lead midway through the latter half at 45-41. That completed a 13-2 run.
Mockevicius got the Aces right back in it, posting four points over the next minute to knot it up at 45-45 before Kris Yanku hit a jumper to put Northern Arizona back on top. The back-and-forth action continued as Jaylon Brown struck again, hitting the first trey of the day for UE as they went back on top 50-49.
Kaluna did his part to help NAU strike back as his second three saw them retake the edge at 54-50. They later took their biggest edge to that point at 56-51, but Balentine hit a bucket to make it a 3-point game. An and-one by Mockevicius with 4:30 left got UE within one at 57-56 before he hit two free throws to put the Aces back on top with four minutes left.
With 3:48 left, Northern Arizona took what would be their last lead of the game at 59-58 on a Martin free throw. From there, the Aces were able to finish the game on a 13-6 run. Blake Simmons had a great jumper down the lane that gave UE the lead for good. Evansville clung to a 64-63 lead with 1:20 left. Following a miss by NAU, Balentine hit a free throw. Another Lumberjack miss gave the ball to UE as Adam Wing hit a pair of free throws.
The clincher came with nine ticks on the clock as Mockevicius had an open dunk to finish off the game as UE would take a 71-65 win.
Leading the Lumberjacks, who finish at 23-15, was Kris Yanku. He posted 18 points while hitting 8 of his 9 free throws.