GAMES NOTES: Riding high on the momentum of their upset victory over then No. 23 Wichita State, the Evansville Purple Aces take on the Drake Bulldogs in a Missouri Valley Conference matchup at the Knapp Center.
After knocking the Shockers out of the national rankings with a 71-67 victory on Sunday, Evansville has now won four straight games and improved to 11-6 this season. The win was also the third in four tries against MVC competition for the Purple Aces. The win proved how dangerous Evansville can be at home (9-2) but when traveling the Purple Aces are just 2-4. Evansville takes a trip to face Indiana State next.
Drake also pulled off a bit of an upset in its last bout as the Bulldogs downed 9-win Illinois State on the road, 82-77. The victory was desperately needed for the Bulldogs who had lost all four of their conference tilts previously and four straight games overall. Drake travels to face Northern Iowa next.
Led by 24 points and eight assists from Colt Ryan the Purple Aces were able to pull of the upset against Wichita State. The game was a tight affair with 13 ties and 16 lead changes. Evansville allowed Wichita State to shoot better than 50 percent in the game, but forced 22 turnovers, which turned into 27 points in the win.
Ryan (16.4 ppg, 3.9 apg) is without a doubt the most important player on the roster for Evansville. The 6-foot-5 swingman struggled in the early going but has heated up of late, averaging 22.3 points per game over the last six contests. That has gotten him closer to his production from a year ago when he put in 20.5 points per game. Ryan is also among the top 10 players in the MVC in assists and steals. Troy Taylor (6.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 4.3 apg) doesn't add much in scoring but ranks in the top five in the conference in assists and has contributed across the board, while 3-point specialist Ned Cox (10.8 ppg) is also a threat to erupt offensively as he hits 45.5 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.
Using a 33-11 run to start the second half against Illinois State, Drake ran out to a 15-point lead with just under nine minutes to play and from there the game was never in doubt as the Bulldogs never led by fewer than five points the rest of the way. Drake hit 47.5 percent of its shots overall, including an impressive 10-of-24 from 3-point range.
Forward Ben Simons (14.5 ppg) is the leading scorer for Drake. At 6-foot-8, Simons has a ton of size but is a less traditional frontcourt player as he prefers to get his buckets from mid-range and beyond. His shooting from 3- point range has been less impressive this season with his 38 percent success rate lower than the two straight seasons of 40 percent shooting he had previously. Simons has begun to find his touch recently hitting better than 40 percent of 3-point attempts in three of the last four games. Seth VanDeest (10.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg) is a more traditional interior player and has been the only other player scoring in double figures by shooting the conference's fourth-best percentage (.592) from the field. Jordan Clarke (8.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg) is one of the better rebounders in the conference and can score when need be.
If Evansville wants to prove that it can really compete in the MVC this season getting wins on the road will be vital. With Ryan at the helm the Purple Aces are always dangerous.