The Purple Aces (3-1) will play three games in Nassau, Bahamas this weekend, starting Friday against East Carolina.
Chad Lindskog, Courier & Press
EVANSVILLE — The Purple Aces’ passports are rapidly filling with stamps.
England, Belgium, France and now the Bahamas.
After touring Europe this summer to play three international exhibitions, the University of Evansville men’s basketball team went abroad again Thursday, leaving campus at 10:30 a.m. for its 1 p.m. chartered flight from Evansville to Nassau, Bahamas.
The Aces are one of eight mid-majors competing in this weekend’s Islands of the Bahamas Showcase and will play three games in as many days. First up: UE (3-1) vs. East Carolina (1-3) at 7 p.m. CST Friday.
“Obviously, this counts,” UE coach Walter McCarty said. “This is for real and I’m going to be a little stricter than I was on the Europe trip. That was about fun and just enjoying ourselves and taking in all the sights.
“This is about going down there and winning.”
They hope to get back on track after suffering their first loss on Monday to Southern Methodist, 59-57. They believe they’re better than that game showed.
And while they’ll surely appreciate the change of scenery and warm weather, all that matters to them this weekend is the possibility of adding three more wins to maintain their hot start.
“It’s a business trip first, but it’s going to be a good experience for us,” junior Noah Frederking said.
On paper, the Aces are the second-best team in the field, according to the KenPom rankings: Liberty (86), Evansville (139), Rice (165), Milwaukee (241), George Washington (247), Kansas City (251), East Carolina (257) and Morgan State (282).
Liberty won the Atlantic Sun Conference last season before it upset fifth-seeded Mississippi State in the NCAA tournament. Like the Aces, the Flames also received votes in this week’s Associated Press poll.
UE will play either George Washington or Kansas City in its second game. If the Aces win against East Carolina, they’ll play again at 7 p.m. Saturday. If not, they’ll fall to the consolation bracket and play at 1 p.m.
“It’s going to be rapid and very quick, but we’re definitely going to enjoy our time in the Bahamas because once we come back, conference is right around the corner,” said Art Labinowicz, who played in this tournament two years ago while at Coastal Carolina. “We’ve got to be dialed in.”
They believe their legs are in shape. They did play their first four games in 10 days, after all. Yet, McCarty said reserves such as Marcus Henderson, Devan Straub and Thomasi Gilgeous-Alexander (who might redshirt) could see increased playing opportunities in the Bahamas.
The second-year head coach wasn’t pleased with Monday’s performance. He designed a game plan to keep SMU off the glass, yet the Aces didn’t follow through and it ultimately cost them the game.
DeAndre Williams said they need to simply trust McCarty and move forward. Williams is 2-for-2 in Missouri Valley Conference Newcomer of the Week honors and his 17.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game are team-highs.
“I’m no special guy, I’m just doing what I do: playing basketball,” Williams said. “I’m going to stick to it and become better each and every day.”
He doesn’t need to lead them every game, though.
“(We’re) not really caring about who gets the glory or who gets the shots because it’s going to be different guys – we need to get used to that,” McCarty said. “K.J. doesn’t have to get 18 every night, DeAndre doesn’t have to get 25 every night, it can be different and when we do that, we’re a pretty good team and though to guard.”
This weekend’s tournament was moved from Kendal Isaacs Gymnasium to a stay-and-play model at the Baha Mar Resort because the former has been serving as a shelter for people displaced by Hurricane Dorian. Games will be live-streamed on FloSports, which requires a subscription. Costs for the site vary, so be sure to read the fine print before agreeing to pay.
Friday’s opener also has an extra twist: Brothers Jawaun and Tristen Newton will face off. Jawaun, a UE sophomore, has started every game while Tristen, a freshman, has done the same for ECU and scored 20 points in his college debut. UE had offered Tristen.
Seemingly none of the Aces had packed by Wednesday afternoon’s practice. Not even McCarty, who also admitted he was relieved he didn’t have to bring any suits and can instead wear short sleeves on the sidelines.
What’s one thing – aside from their passports – the players were going to be sure to pack?
“Hopefully my basketball shoes,” Frederking said. “I don’t want to forget those.”
ISLANDS OF THE BAHAMAS SHOWCASE
Nassau, Bahamas at the Baha Mar Convention Center (All times CST)
Broadcasts: FloSports (video stream), WJPS-107.1FM (UE radio)
G1: Liberty (5-0) vs. Morgan State (3-2), 10 a.m.
G2: Rice (4-2) vs. Milwaukee (4-1), 1 p.m.
G3: Kansas City (2-3) vs. George Washington (1-3), 4 p.m.
G4: Evansville (3-1) vs. East Carolina (1-3), 7 p.m.
G5: G1 loser vs. G2 loser, 10 a.m.
G6: G3 loser vs. G4 loser, 1 p.m.
G7: Semifinal – G1 winner vs. G2 winner, 4 p.m.
G8: Semifinal – G3 winner vs. G4 winner, 7 p.m.
Seventh place, 10 a.m.
Fifth place, 1 p.m.
Third place, 4 p.m.
Championship, 7 p.m.
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