Wichita, KS (SportsNetwork.com) - The Evansville Purple Aces go in search of their first 20-win regular season since 1998-99, but accomplishing that feat on Sunday afternoon won't be easy as they challenge the 13th-ranked Wichita State Shockers at Charles Koch Arena.
Evansville enters the fray having won its last three games, the most recent of which being a 61-52 decision against visiting Drake last Tuesday. The current run comes on the heels of three straight losses, and the team presently sits at 19-8 overall and 9-6 in conference, which has it in third place, five games back of front-runners Wichita State and Northern Iowa, which the Purple Aces will face next.
Wichita State comes in sporting an impressive 24-3 record, which includes a 14-1 league ledger. The Shockers are riding a five-game win streak, which includes an 84-62 shellacking of last-place Southern Illinois on Tuesday. Their only conference loss took place at Northern Iowa on Jan. 31, and the two teams will close out the regular season against each other, and possibly decide the MVC champion, next Saturday in Wichita.
Wichita State owns a 26-16 lead in the all-time series with Evansville, and that includes a 15-5 mark at home. The Shockers have been even more dominant at the Koch Center recently, winning 12 of the last 13 meetings with the Purple Aces.
The two teams met in Evansville earlier this season, with WSU prevailing easily in a 61-41 final. Ron Baker and Darius Carter scored 18 points apiece for the Shockers, with the latter also coming up with 11 rebounds. As for the Aces, they were paced by D.J. Balentine with 16 points.
Balentine hit for 24 points in Evansville's recent win over Drake, accounting for nearly 40 percent of the team's total scoring output. No other player tallied more than eight points (three players actually) for the Purple Aces, who shot 47.6 percent from the field, but went just 2-of-6 from 3-point range. A 19-10 edge in points at the foul line, coupled with the fact that 17 Drake turnovers led to 17 points for the home team also played a significant role in the outcome.
Balentine is the leading scorer not only for the Purple Aces, but in the Missouri Valley Conference as well, as he nets 19.4 ppg. Considered one of the top scorers in the country, Balentine is shooting 39 percent from distance, almost 74 at the free-throw line, and he delivers 3.3 apg as well. While Balentine receives much of the press for Evansville, Egidju Mockevicius has turned in an outstanding season of his own, as he nets 12.2 ppg while pulling down a league-leading 10.0 rpg. The team as a whole generates 70.9 ppg, which matches Wichita State for the top spot in the MVC, and the Aces shoot the ball more efficiently than any team in the leagued, doing so at 48.9 percent. They also pace the conference in assists (16.2 per game) and defensive rebounds (24.1 per game).
Shaquille Morris came off the bench to shoot 7-of-8 from the floor in netting a game-high 17 points, all in only 15 minutes of action, as Wichita State beat up on Southern Illinois the last time out. Morris was joined in double figures by Fred VanVleet and Baker with 13 points apiece, while Tekele Cotton chipped in 10 points for the Shockers, who drained 10-of-19 3-point tries as part of a 58.3 percent overall shooting effort. They also went 18-of-21 at the charity stripe, while holding the Salukis to 40.7 percent field goal efficiency, which included just a 4-of-13 performance out on the perimeter. SIU was guilty of only 10 turnovers in the game, but WSU capitalized on nearly every one by scoring 21 points. With Morris leading the way, the Shockers' reserves outscored Southern Illinois' by a 36-14 margin.
As mentioned, Wichita State is putting up 70.9 ppg while its average yield comes in at a mere 56.3 ppg. As a result, the Shockers have the largest scoring margin in the MVC at +14.6. They also lead the league in rebounding margin (+5.8), turnover differential (+3.56) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.4). Baker, a 41.3 percent shooter from long range, is the top scorer for WSU as he averages 15.5 ppg. Fred VanVleet is next at 12.0 ppg, and he gets his teammates involved in the action quite regularly, handing out a conference-high 144 assists. Carter rounds out the unit's double-digit scorers with 11.5 ppg, and he is the leading rebounder with 5.3 caroms per contest.