The Colonels jumped out to a 10-2 lead and led by as many as 11 points only to see Evansville storm back to claim an 86-72 victory Saturday in the second round of the Collegeinsider.com Tournament.
The Purple Aces took the lead at 27-26 with 7:29 left in the first half.
Evansville built its lead to 41-34 with 2:35 to go before the Colonels defense forced three consecutive turnovers and EKU scored eight straight to retake the lead with 34 seconds to go.
After Evansville regained the lead, Tarius Johnson tied it at 43 all with a basket with 1.2 seconds to go.
The Colonels shot the ball very well in the first half, hitting 66 percent from the field, but after the hot start, the Evansville defense really picked it up and made it difficult to score.
“This is an outstanding basketball environment, the Evansville fans really supported their team and were really into it,” EKU coach Jeff Neubauer said. “I liked our first half offensively. To shoot 66 percent against a well-coached team is very unusual.”
The Purple Aces dominated the backboards early in the second half getting several second-chance points that helped them build a 60-51 lead with 12 minutes to.
EKU was limited to only two points during a five-minute stretch mid-way through the half and Evansville took control of the game going on a 12-2 run to extend its lead to as many as 12 points.
The Colonels twice cut the lead to less than 10 points with seven minutes to go, but each time the Purple Aces scored five straights points to rebuild the lead.
Corey Walden pulled EKU to within 73-63 with a three pointer with four minutes to go, but Evansville scored back-to-back buckets to quickly push it back to 77-63 and the Colonels could get no closer the rest of the way.
Eric Stutz, who grew up in nearby Newberg Ind., scored 11 points, pulled down four rebounds and blocked two shots in his return home.
Glenn Cosey led four Colonels in double figures with 18 points. Mike DiNunno finished with 14 points in his final game as a Colonel, while Corey Walden had 12 points.
The Purple Aces doubled up the Colonels on the backboards, pulling down 41 rebounds to EKU’s 20.
Neubauer said the rebounding and the inability of the Colonels to force turnovers were big factors in the game.
“Evansville really guarded us, especially in the second half. And the fact that we weren’t able to turn them over, only 11 in the game, created a myriad of troubles for us,” Neubauer said. “We did get some turnovers to end the half, but overall we weren’t able to turn them over enough.”
The Colonels won in a difficult environment on the road against Gardner-Webb and came up short Saturday in another tough environment.
Neubauer said the experience of playing in those atmosphere will help his returning players going into next year.
“This is nothing but great for our guys. For all of our returners to be able to come back next year with all these experiences. Whether it was weathering the storm at Gardner-Webb or something bad happening and us learning from it,” Neubauer said. “Just the experience of us learning from it and to play in these environments and get basketball situations under our belt is great for them to carry into next year.”