Education Day saw 6,048 fans in attendance as the University of Evansville men’s basketball team earned a 68-55 win over North Carolina Central inside the Ford Center on Monday morning.
“The first thing that stood out was the kids. It was fantastic. From our basketball players and staff, I want to thank everyone that was involved in making this happen,” UE head coach Marty Simmons said. “North Carolina Central is a very tough matchup and our guys put a lot into preparation for this game. Overall, we are pretty proud of the effort.”
Leading everyone once again was junior Ryan Taylor. An 8-of-16 game from the floor coupled with a 10-13 effort from the line saw him finish with 29 points. Blake Simmons notched three triples on his way to 11 points while Dalen Traore had his best game at UE (2-0) as he totaled 10. It eclipsed his previous career game of nine points, set last year against Morehead State. He also had a team-best seven boards.
“It was pretty good for us, we had to set the tone,” Traore explained. “Having the kids there was a good thing and really helped us.”
Raasean Davis was the leader for the Eagles (0-2) as he totaled 12 points and nine rebounds. Zachary Douglas checked in with 10 points and nine boards.
Evansville’s defense was the story in the first half, forcing 16 Eagle turnovers. Ryan Taylor was also on fire, finishing the stanza with 15 points. The Aces scored the first five of the game, all by Taylor. North Carolina Central got on the board at the 16:59 mark on a shot by Raasean Davis, but UE kept the pressure on, going up 12-3 on a bucket by Blake Simmons.
The lead for the Aces reached double figures for the first time at 23-13 when Dru Smith knocked down a trey before reaching 17 (35-18) with 4:51 on the clock. The Eagles finished the period on an 8-1 run as UE missed its last five shots making it a 36-26 game in favor of the Aces at the break.
Out of the half, the Aces extended their advantage back up to 16 points thanks to Taylor and Simmons, who each had early three’s. Another pair of Taylor free throws pushed the UE advantage up to 18 at 48-30 just over five minutes into the half.
North Carolina Central never gave up and made their way back into the game as a 14-3 run cut the deficit to just seven at 53-46 with eight minutes remaining. Taylor helped end the rally with two more from the charity stripe before a 6-0 stretch saw the lead go back up to 15 at 63-48. Dalen Traore had two buckets in the run.
From there, UE was able to hang on to take the 13-point win. Evansville shot 51.1% for the game while going 7-of-14 from outside. It was also another efficient offense contest as the Aces notched 18 assists on 23 makes. UE forced 28 NCCU turnovers, the most the squad has forced since a 2011 contest against Oakland City. The Aces also took great advantage of those turnovers, turning them into 26 points.
Ryan Taylor had his best 2-game stretch as a member of the Aces and shares that success with his teammates.
“My teammates have really helped me get better in the offseason,” Taylor said. “We also do a lot together off the court which really helps us as a team.”
Thursday evening will mark the third out of four home contests to begin the season as Evansville welcomes Southeast Missouri State to the Ford Center for a 7 p.m. game. Prior to the contest, the Aces will hold a Pregame Party at the DoubleTree Hotel, which is connected to the Ford Center. It runs from 4:30 p.m. until game time at 7 p.m. Head coach Marty Simmons will speak at 5:15 pm while Aces legend Marcus Wilson will be on hand at 6:15. Admission is just $20 and includes a parking space for the evening in the DoubleTree parking garage and a full meal at the event.