Evansville, IN (SportsNetwork.com) - Hoping to make some significant headway in the Missouri Valley Conference standings, the Evansville Purple Aces will try to upset the 13th-ranked Wichita State Shockers when the teams meet at the Ford Center on Saturday afternoon.
Wichita State comes in sporting a 15-2 overall mark, which includes a perfect 5-0 league ledger. The Shockers have won five straight, all in conference, the most recent of which being a 67-55 decision over Southern Illinois at home on Wednesday. After losing in overtime at Utah back on Dec. 3, WSU has won its last four road games, and is 6-2 all told away from home when you factor in its 2-1 record in neutral-site affairs.
Evansville brings a modest two-game win streak into this fray, as the team ran its overall record to 13-4 and its MVC mark to 3-2 by winning a pair of road games at Bradley (66-56) and Missouri State (56-54) in the last week. The Purple Aces now return home where they have gone 7-2 this season, although one of the setbacks occurred the last time they played in front of friendly faces as they dropped a 71-70 decision to league foe Loyola-Chicago on Jan. 7.
Wichita State owns a 25-16 lead in the all-time series with Evansville, and the Shockers won all three meetings last season, the last being an 80-58 rout in the 2014 MVC Tournament.
Darius Carter scored a career-high 25 points to lead Wichita State to its recent win over Southern Illinois. Carter drained 11-of-15 field goal attempts to help the Shockers connect on an even 50 percent of their total shots. That effort was even more impressive when you realize the squad went just 2-of-12 from 3-point range. Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton contributed 11 and 10 points, respectively for WSU, which held the Salukis to 39.3 percent field goal efficiency, including only 2-of-9 from beyond the arc. A 17-9 edge in points at the foul line certainly helped the Shockers' cause, as did advantages both in bench points (17-8) and points in the paint (34-22).
Baker is netting 16.2 ppg to lead four Wichita State players in double figures, the team putting up 72.1 ppg in knocking down 45.4 percent of its total shots, which includes a 36.6 percent effort from long range. Foes are as successful out on the perimeter (.367), but they commit roughly 14 turnovers per outing, while coming up five rebounds shy of the Shockers on average. All of that of course means opponents are scoring just 58.5 ppg against what is a solid Wichita State squad in just about every aspect of the game.
Evansville needed to put forth a dominant defensive effort in its recent bout at Missouri State, and it did just that in holding the Bears to 36.4 percent field goal accuracy, which encompassed a miserable 2-of-13 performance for the home team out on the perimeter. The Aces bounced back from a 31.8 percent shooting effort in the opening half to convert half of their field goal attempts in the final frame. They shot 6-of-12 from distance overall, and used an 18-12 edge in points at the charity stripe to pull out the victory. Mislav Brzoja scored 18 points to pace the squad, while help came from Egidiju Mockevicius who logged a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds, as well as Jaylon Brown who chipped in 10 points off the bench.
Despite an off night in which he tallied only seven points, D.J. Balentine continues to spearhead Evansville's offensive attack as he averages 20.5 ppg, which ranks him among the national leaders. The only other guy netting double figures for the Purple Aces is Mockevicius with 13.7 ppg, and he is actually one of a handful of players nationally averaging a double-double as he also grabs 10.9 rpg to go with 44 blocks. As a team, Evansville is putting up 74.6 ppg while allowing only 63.9 ppg, and it is shooting 51.1 percent from the floor and 74.7 percent at the free-throw line.