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Evansville (13-18) vs. Drake (15-15)



The Sports Network

DATE & TIME: Thursday, March 6, 7:05 p.m. (ET)

FACTS & STATS: Site: Scottrade Center (19,260) -- St. Louis, Missouri. Television: MVC TV. Home Record: Evansville 10-7, Drake 9-5. Away Record: Evansville 3-11, Drake 4-9. Neutral Record: Evansville 0-0, Drake 2-1. Conference Record: Evansville 6-12, Drake 6-12. Series Record: Evansville leads, 21-20.

GAME NOTES: The Missouri Valley Conference Tournament begins on Thursday as the Evansville Purple Aces collide with the Drake Bulldogs at the Scottrade Center in the opening bout of Arch Madness.

This winner of this contest will advance to take on the undefeated Wichita State Shockers.

Coach Marty Simmons began his seventh season at the helm of the program by guiding Evansville to five straight wins, but his team has owned a sub-.500 overall record since early January. The Purple Aces' lack of success came in large part due to poor defensive play as they rank last in the MVC with an allowance of 72.3 ppg. Evansville did not play at any neutral sites during the regular season and went just 3-11 in true road tests.

The eighth-seeded Bulldogs enter the postseason with a .500 record overall even though they finished with only six MVC triumphs. Drake leads the league in 3-point field-goal percentage (.392), but also ranks second to last in turnover margin (-0.83). Coach Ray Giacoletti's squad is leading the MVC in 3- point field goal percentage (.392) and ranks third in rebounding margin with 1.3 more rpg than the opposition. In league play, the Bulldogs have been outscored by an average of 5.3 ppg and allowed their MVC rivals to shoot 45.9 percent from the floor.

Drake and Evansville split the regular-season series with the Bulldogs earning a 94-66 win in Des Moines but suffering a 61-48 loss at Evansville that was just one of two losses Drake suffered in the final five games. The Purple Aces' recent win gave them a 21-20 all-time series lead.

Offensively, Evansville is capable of lighting up the scoreboard with the conference's leading scorer D.J. Balentine at the center of its attack. The 6- foot-2 sophomore improved his scoring by 14 ppg from his rookie year and connected on 40 percent of his 3-point field goal attempts to net 22.3 ppg, which he accompanies with 4.3 apg. Balentine scored a total of 43 points in two games versus Drake this season. Sophomore center Egidijus Mockevicius paces the MVC in field goal percentage (.634) for 10.3 ppg and also positions himself well for a team-best 8.3 rpg. Freshman swingman Blake Simmons, whose father is UE's head coach, is producing 9.8 ppg.

Senior point guard Richard Carter spearheads the charge for the Bulldogs with 16.3 ppg and 3.7 apg, while his classmate Aaron Hawley is chipping in a career- best 10.3 ppg. The Bulldogs received a boost from their 5-9 Boston College transfer Jordan Daniels (10.1 ppg) throughout the campaign, but he ended this season with only 24 total points over the final four games. Drake experienced a significant drop off on the offensive end when it entered the league portion of its schedule. The team netted 74.4 ppg during its non- conference slate before producing just 64.6 ppg versus its MVC rivals.

One more win would guarantee Drake a .500 record in Giacoletti's first year at the helm of the program. While the Purple Aces and Bulldogs are very evenly matched, Evansville has the most explosive scorer in the MVC and much more momentum entering St. Louis.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Evansville 70, Drake 66

03/06 10:30:44 ET

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