Thank You: D.J. Balentine, Egidijus Mockevicius, & Adam Wing’s Era with Evansville Purple Aces ends

By Peyton Wesner When the 2015-16 Evansville Purple Aces’ men’s basketball regular season wrapped up and D.J. Balentine, Egidijus Mockevicius, and Adam Wing took the mic for their Senior Day speeches, no one in attendance had any other belief that their team was going to win “Arch Madness” and be playing in the NCAA Tournament.

Then, the shot heard around “The Valley” fell through the cylinder and the Northern Iowa Panthers ripped the automatic bid from Marty Simmons’ group hands. Still, there was no doubt in mind the Purple Aces would be playing post season basketball in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT). Or that was until around 7:50 PM local time yesterday evening, when the final team in the field of 32, the North Florida Ospreys, had their name announced rather than UE.

So the Collegeinsider.com Tournament (CIT) awaited, right?

Not this year.

Instead of accepting an invitation to a “third-tier tournament,” the seniors, program, and athletic department decided to end the season with their Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship defeat and a 25-9 record (the most wins since 1988-89).

Yet, let’s not harp on the sadness that comes with the greatest trio of seniors leaving, and instead let’s relive the journey we went on with them these past four seasons.

Chapter 1: The Beginning  It all started the fall of 2012. The 2012-13 Evansville Purple Aces’ season, also remembered as Colt Ryan and Troy Taylor’s senior year, was a campaign of ups and downs.

Yes, UE won 21 games and made a run to the CIT Final Four. Though, they also lost 15 contests, 10 of which transpired as a part of 5 two-game losing streaks. Nevertheless, one could tell there was something special about the new kids on campus. For example, right out of the gates, Balentine posted nine points in a hostile environment (South Bend, Indiana) versus Notre Dame. Moreover, “Iggy,” Egidijus Mockevicius, showcased his talent with a 12-point, 5-rebound performance (15 minutes of action) in the following game.

So D.J. is the scorer and Mockevicius is the double-double threat. What about Adam Wing? What does he contribute?”  Adam Wing has been the glue in the middle for all four years in Southern Indiana. Blessed with leadership beyond his years, his playing time drastically increased as the season grew older, in addition to, starting the final 10 matchups and being indispensable to the squad’s post season jolt.

In fact, the only class of 2016 Evansville Purple Ace not to start over one game was Balentine! However, following the departure of the university’s leading scorer (Colt Ryan), not just Balentine, but all three of the “fab freshmen” were due for more critical roles as well as a wake-up call that winning would not be as easy as imagined.

Chapter 2: The Fall

The 2013-14 campaign could not have started any better for Evansville. They began 5-0 with impressive wins over Mercer (the Mercer Bears would go on to upset the Duke Blue Devils in the 2014 NCAA Tournament) and Valparaiso as they posted an average of 90.2 points per game. Though, a matchup with the always dangerous Indiana Hooisers ensued.

It did not go well…AT ALL!

 Dominated from the tip, Evansville’s “Big Three” was frustrated on both ends of the floor. More specifically, Mockevicius could not stay off the bench to anchor the middle of the defense and the Hooisers smothered Balentine, leading to a then season-low point total of 14 on 5-of-17 shooting. It was the first defeat of the year, and, sadly, it would not be the last. Taken down by the likes of Xavier, Butler, Murray State, and the “notoriousWichita State Shockers (three times), Simmons’ squad had their worst season since 2009-10. However, that did not keep #31 from averaging a career-high 22.8 points per game and Iggy almost averaging a double-double. Also, Wing had a typical stat-sheet stuffer line of 7.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game.

Sure! The season did not go as plan and cannot be marked up as a positive. Yet, that season no seniors were present and arguably the best three players were “stud sophomores.” So, invaluable experience was gained and it would be seen the following fall.

Chapter 3: The Run Through March

Earlham was the first to taste the wrath and witness the talent of the new and improved Evansville Purple Aces. All members of the Big Three had double-figure point totals in a spectacular 116-45 victory to commence the newest campaign.

From 1-0, the car continued to go down the road without “engine trouble.” In other words, the Purple Aces found themselves at 11-2 after a New Years’ Day triumph over UNI. The win showed a tremendous amount of character and heart considering the Panthers’ defense held Balentine and Mockevicius to a combined 10-of-26 shooting! Yet, following the win, the Purple Aces crossed the median and went into a ditch.   It started on the road at Indiana State, a place the current seniors never left victorious, and resulted in a two-game skid as Milton Doyle’s Loyola (IL) Ramblers stole one inside the friendly confines.

Thankfully, the guys pulled the car out mostly unscathed, for they rolled off five wins in their next six (Wichita State at home was the one defeat) to climb back towards the top of the conference hierarchy. Nevertheless, another road trip, this time to Drake, supplied another L and what would begin a three-game skid. Again, Evansville recovered quite nicely with three victories, two of which came without Mockevicius in action.

“You don’t want to go to war with the Shockers!”

On February 22, 2015, Evansville was routed by the Wichita State Shockers. The significance? This defeat flipped the regular season and led to a four-game losing streak that ended with back-to-back losses at the wings of the Illinois State Redbirds. The team was heartbroken. Yet, they did not allow their low morale to stay at when March 18 came around.

Obviously not an NCAA or NIT team, the Evansville Purple Aces took their abilities to the CIT for the second season in three years. As previously mentioned, with Colt Ryan and Troy Taylor, they went to the Final Four. This time, they took it one step further.

Starting with 35 points in what should have been a blowout victory over IPFW (the Mastodons rallied to make it a single-digit contest but UE prevailed), D.J. Balentine showed his determination not to lose with amazing performance after amazing performance. Furthermore, he was arguably the most efficient he had ever been shooting-wise since he shot over 50% in every matchup besides the final of the season (27.2 PPG on 53.5 FG% and 51.4 3P%). Hence, the Kokomo, Indiana, product was a shoe-in for CIT MVP, IF the Purple Aces could get there.  “Survive and advance.

Ha! Was there any doubt? Propelled by D.J. and Adam’s points and Iggy’s defense, Evansville ripped through Eastern Illinois, Louisiana-Lafayette, and UT-Martin, setting up a championship game with Northern Arizona. 

Clank! Boink! Off the mark!

At the worst time possible, superstar and the greatest MVC talent since Doug McDermott, D.J. Balentine, could not stick the “biscuit in the basket” as NAU switched defenders on his “off ball” cuts and always had a defender on him when he caught the ball. Therefore, Balentine shot 4-of-16 from the field and had just 16 points. Though, he didn’t need to score on this night as Egidijus Mockevicius flexed his muscles with the best performance of his career, a double-double of 27 points and 12 rebounds as well as now “jazzy juniorJaylon Brown (Remember the name MVC fans, JB will be a star next season) chipping in ten of the group’s 71 total points. Evansville, was the 2015 CIT Champions!  Chapter 4: Leaving a Legacy

Now wouldn’t that have been the perfect way to end the story of D.J. Balentine, Adam Wing, and Egidijus Mockevicius?

Yes! But this season was just as glorious.

Marching through mid-major after mid-major — their only losses were against Providence and Arkansas — Evansville entered conference play with a mark of 11-2 and a hilarious twitter video of JB on California Screaming at Disneyland’s California Adventure (Just watch the video!). And the Purple Aces did not stop adding Ws as they moved to 6-1 in The Valley  heading into “Terror Haute.

Any true UE fan knows the “House of Horrors” the Hulman Center has been for their team. And on that Sunday afternoon, the Indiana State Sycamores rocked the Purple Aces while sending them into a stretch of four losses in six games (vs Wichita State,  @ UNI, & vs Illinois State). At this point, everyone knew the only way to make the NCAA Tournament was to win Arch Madness. However, the aforementioned did not mean Evansville did not attend to their wrecking ship, fix the hull, and have a four game hot streak heading into Senior Day.

#UNIFight!

The opponent was the one and only Northern Iowa Panthers, and even without 2014-15 Larry Bird MVC Player of the Year Seth Tuttle, Ben Jacobson’s team was entering on impressive stretch of their own (8 wins in their last 9). Therefore, one streak had to give.

A mere replica of the showdown in Cedar Falls at the beginning of the month, UNI frustrated Evansville’s offense and Balentine for the first 25 minutes. But, they couldn’t lock the door on the Purple Aces! Hence, UE rallied on 14 second half points from the MVC’s leading scorer in addition to timely triples by Adam Wing! 51-50 UNI! 

Then it all came down to the last possession. The Panthers’ Jeremy Morgan had made only one of the two free throws at the other end of the floor, leaving Evansville with a chance to win or tie. They went for the win…and was denied by Wes Washpun and an unkind rim.

We plan on staying until Sunday!

 And they did.

Arch Madness, a Missouri Valley Conference junkie’s dream, started on March 3 with a pair of play in games. Extra info aside, Evansville had the first night off and then put away a pesky Missouri State squad on Friday before and destroying Indiana State in the semi-finals on Saturday. DJ, Iggy, Adam, and the guys had themselves an “NCAA Tournament automatic bid deciding” third matchup with the Northern Iowa Panthers!

Sadly (and we Evansville Purple Aces’ fans prefer not to relive the specifics), the third time was not the charm.

So that leads us to present day.

The NIT Selection Committee found Evansville unworthy due to not enough marquee wins (just another instance of a mid-major not receiving its well deserved dues) and the best four years of Evansville Purple Aces’ basketball has come to a close.

Please allow me to leave you with this:

D.J., Egidijus, Adam, thank you so much for everything you gave to the University of Evansville as well as the community. This town will forever be your home as you were a part of this area’s growth on and off the court. Who knows when Purple Aces’ fans will see you three again at the Ford Center, but in the words of Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Pugh, we will tell you again what you have done for Evansville, Indiana, “when I see you again.” You will be missed.

#12 Adam Wing (Morehead, Kentucky)

 Final Statistics: 

  • 804 Points (6.3 PPG)
  • 445 Rebounds (3.5 RPG)
  • 240 Assists (1.9 APG)

Career Accolades:

  • Member of 2015 Collegeinsider.com Tournament All-Tournament Team
  • The MVC’s BEST Team Leader since Sophomore year

#55 Egidijus Mockevicius (Vilnius, Lithuania)  Final Statistics:

  • 1,504 Points (11.1 PPG) – 11th
  • 1,258 Rebounds (9.3 RPG) – 1st
  • 297 Blocks (2.2 BPG) – 1st

Career Accolades:

  • Two-Time MVC 1st Team Selection (2014-15 & 2015-16)
  • 2015-16 MVC Defensive Player of the Year
  • 2015-16 NCAA Division One Men’s Basketball Leading Redbounder
  • Three-Time Leading Rebounder in the MVC (2013-14, 2014-15, & 2015-16)
  • Two-Time MVC All-Defensive Team Selection (2013-14 & 2015-16)
  • Member of 2015 Collegeinsider.com Tournament All-Tournament Team
  • 2012-13 MVC All-Freshman Team Selection

#31 D.J. Balentine (Kokomo, Indiana)  Final Statistics:

  • 2,464 Points (17.7 PPG) – 1st
  • 311 Rebounds (2.7 RPG)
  • 472 Assists (3.4 APG) -4th

Career Accolades:

  • Three-Time MVC 1st Team Selection  (2013-14, 2014-15, & 2015-16)
  • Three-Time Leading Scorer in the MVC  (2013-14, 2014-15, & 2015-16)
  • The MOST DESERVING Candidate for 2015-16 MVC Player of the Year
  • 2015 Collegeinsider.com Tournament Most Valuable Player
  • Member of 2015 Collegeinsider.com Tournament All-Tournament Team
  • Member of 2014 MVC All-Tournament Team
  • 2013-14 MVC Most Improved Team selection
  • 2012-13 MVC All-Freshman Team Selection
  • 2012-13 MVC All-Bench Selection