ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Evansville head coach Marty Simmons was blunt: He needed his team to grow before their Arch Madness grudge match versus Indiana State.
Four days of preparation brought improvement.
After three points decided two regular season matchups, Evansville (16-16, 6-12) chopped down the Sycamores (11-20, 5-13), 83-72. A game-high 27 points by senior Jaylon Brown advanced the Purple Aces to a quarterfinal matchup with top-seeded Illinois State.
“Give Indiana State credit,” said Simmons, “They made a lot of big shots, (they) made a run. But, I like the way our guys hung in there, and we were able to finish it off.”
Three-pointers paced Indiana State early. Triples by Niels Bunschoten and Matt Van Scyoc kept the score close initially.
Then, Missouri Valley Conference’s leading scorer Jaylon Brown took over.
Brown, who was coming off 24 points Saturday, scored eight points to spur a 13-0 shuffle.
“I think the practices that we had before this game really helped us out in the beginning,” Brown said. “The practices we had gave us confidence to come in and start off well.”
As the offense was clicking on all cylinders, Evansville locked down on the defensive end. The Purple Aces instigated seven consecutive empty Indiana State possessions, causing the Sycamores to take a timeout down 20-6.
It did not help.
Indiana State remained challenged on the offensive end. After cutting the deficit to 11 with 3:56 left before halftime, Evansville went on a 10-0 run. The offensive burst provided Simmons’ squad with a 21-point lead while holding the Sycamores to 21% shooting.
Despite Evansville increasing their advantage to a game-high 24 points, the Sycamores’ offense woke up in the final minutes. Brenton Scott scored 6 of his team-high 17 points to pull Indiana State within 6 with 51 seconds remaining.
The heart rate of Purple Aces’ fans was now high inside Scottrade Center. Evansville had squandered an 18-point edge in four minutes.
Thankfully for those in purple, their team recovered. Evansville made 11-of-12 free throws in the final 81 seconds. Most importantly, no free possessions were given via turnovers.
Evansville had a date with the 25-5 (17-1) Redbirds.
No Sycamore shot extremely well on Thursday. Scott led the team, who was hampered by the flu, with 17 points on 5-of-19 shooting. Senior T.J. Bell scored 5 of his 15 points to complement Scott’s surge. Fellow classmate Everett Clemons finished with 12 points and 7 rebounds in his final collegiate game.
Two days after being named to the All-MVC second team, Jaylon Brown made 3 three-pointers in a 27-point, 8-rebound performance. The Fishers, Indiana, product is average 24 points and 6.2 rebounds per game in his past five. Backcourt mate Duane “Boo” Gibson, in addition to shutting down Sycamores’ leading scorer Brenton Scott, stuffed the stat-sheet with 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists. While the offensive showing was one of his best this season; a great defensive performance will be necessary on MVC Player of the Year and Illinois State point guard Paris Lee tomorrow.
“It will be big,” said Simmons of Gibson’s defensive assignment on Lee. “(However) we’re not going to stop anybody one-on-one. We’re going to have to be solid as a team, and we’re going to have to execute our coverages.”
#8 Evansville takes on the #1Illinois State Redbirds tomorrow at 12 p.m. College Court Report will have full coverage from Scottrade Center.
– P. Wesner