It may have gotten lost in the College Football Playoff shuffle, but believe it or not, there were actually college basketball games played on Thursday. In fact, there was a top-25 upset, as Evansville (11-2) knocked off No. 23 Northern Iowa (11-2), 52-49.
“It’s unbelievable,” Evansville guard D.J. Balentine said on Ferrall on the Bench. “We knew coming in Northern Iowa was one of the top teams in the country, so we knew it would be a very tough game. The guys all played hard, and we really wanted to win. I’m proud of my teammates and coaches for doing so.”
Balentine, who averages 22.1 points per game, had 17 points, three assists, two rebounds and one steal against Northern Iowa. He has scored 30+ points in two of his last five games, going off for 31 in a 81-79 loss to Murray State on Dec. 13 and 32 points in an 85-80 win over Coppin State on Dec. 28.
Balentine plays 35 minutes a night and has hit at least three three-pointers in six of 13 games this season. He also has at least three assists in 11 of his 13 games.
“I got to give credit to my teammates and coaches,” Balentine said. “They put me in a terrific position that allowed me to put the ball in the hoop and also dish it out to my teammates for them to score. I can always do better. I’m never satisfied. It’s pretty good so far, though.”
Balentine is a 6-2, 210-pound junior from Kokomo, Indiana. He did not receive any scholarship offers from Big Ten schools.
“I visited a lot of Big Ten schools, and a lot of them never really pulled the trigger on the offers,” Balentine said. “I visited Michigan plenty of times Iowa, IU, Purdue and Ohio State. They never really pulled the trigger. So a lot of mid-major schools, a lot of Missouri Valley schools, came into the picture. And I came down to Evansville for an official visit. And I’ve loved it ever since. Coaches, teammates – it was all a great fit. I’m glad I’m here.”
Evansville beat Northern Illinois despite shooting just 16-of-49 (32.7 percent) from the field, 1-of-11 (9.1 percent) from three and 19-of-25 (76 percent) from the line. Northern Iowa shot better in all three phases, hitting at a 44.2 percent, 27.8 percent and 85.7 percent, respectively.
How did Evansville manage to win? Was it on the boards, where the Purple Aces had a 36-27 advantage?
“I think it’s defense,” Balentine said. “Our defense has been questionable at times, and I think we really dug down deep and locked up in the second half. And also, the loose balls. We won the 50/50 balls a lot. I think we played really tough. The ball bounced our way a couple times. Give credit to Northern Iowa. They played great. But I’m really proud of our guys.”