All images courtesy of UE Athletics. A look at what the Aces have been up to on their first four days abroad, including a win Saturday. Wochit, Wochit
EVANSVILLE — Following four days in England, including an 84-82 win Saturday over the professional London Lions, the University of Evansville men’s basketball team is Belgium-bound as it approaches the midpoint of its European trip.
The end of the bench where the coaching staff sits, however, is starting to resemble a game of musical chairs as another ex-head coach turned Aces assistant is on the move.
Matthew Graves is not part of UE’s travel party overseas because he has left the program. He accepted a position as special assistant to Xavier head coach Travis Steele and will start that job on Monday, he told the Courier & Press.
“Crazy timing but in this business, you can’t control it,” Graves said. “I’m excited for the challenge ahead and also look forward to watching the Aces this year.” He added his wife and two daughters will remain in Evansville for the school year.
This news comes after UE Athletics announced Monday Todd Lickliter has retired to spend more time with family. Lickliter, 64, and Graves, 45, previously were together at Butler and brought 17 years of head coaching experience for Walter McCarty’s inaugural season.
Graves, who was at the Aces’ practice Monday, joined the staff after a five-year stint as head coach at South Alabama. Lickliter previously was head coach at Butler, Iowa and Marian University.
So, the Aces now have lost both of their top assistants, each of whom are seasoned compared to an otherwise fresh staff. Only McCarty, Terrence Commodore and Logan Baumann remain, and the opener will be 88 days away when they return from Europe.
Commodore has spent the past three seasons as an assistant coach, including two at his alma mater Eastern Kentucky. Baumann, a Louisville graduate, was promoted to fill Lickliter’s void after being the Aces’ director of basketball operations last year.
UE Athletics has not yet commented on Graves’ departure, so it’s unclear whether the Aces will add another assistant to the staff. Graves is still listed on the roster, but Lickliter has been removed.
Aces victorious in first of three international contests
After much anticipation, the Aces have finally played someone other than each other.
They led throughout Saturday’s four-quarter exhibition with the London Lions on their way to win, 84-82. UE had the lead to end every quarter and was on its way to a greater margin of victory, yet it surrendered a 17-0 run late in the fourth.
Art Labinowicz, Sam Cunliffe, John Hall, K.J. Riley and DeAndre Williams started for the Aces — meaning Labinowicz, Cunliffe and Williams made their unofficial debuts after sitting out as redshirts last year.
“It was a good opportunity for me,” Williams said during a postgame interview with UE Athletics. “I got better, got the rust off after not playing the last two years. It felt good and my teammates, we all played together.”
Williams’ dunk during the final moments sealed the victory. He scored a team-high 24 points while freshman Marcus Henderson had nine and Noah Frederking and Jawaun Newton scored eight apiece. Labinowicz and Cunliffe each added seven points.
“I thought it was a fun game,” UE coach Walter McCarty said. “The guys played really hard and played together as a unit most of the game. It was a very competitive contest with guys who are stronger than them and are a little more experienced basketball-wise.”
DeAndre Williams led the Aces with 24 points during their victory Saturday over a pro team in London, England. UE Athletics, Wochit
Pittsburgh transfer Peace Ilegomah didn’t make the trip. It’s unclear whether he will be immediately eligible or if he must sit until the second semester in accordance with NCAA transfer rules.
McCarty, however, said he was encouraged by the freshmen Henderson and Thomasi Gilgeous-Alexander. He added that UE relaxed when its lead reached 19 points late, so staying focused will continue to be a point of emphasis.
“We played really well today, but we also made a lot of mistakes and have a lot of room to improve,” sophomore guard Jawaun Newton said. “My freshman year, I didn’t play with a lot of confidence, so it was good to come out here and play as I did in high school to show what I can really do.”
The Aces have remained busy for the first four days of their 10-day trip abroad.
They landed in London at 3:10 a.m. CDT Wednesday (9:10 a.m. locally) and spent the day at Harlaxton College, roughly 100 miles from London and affiliated with UE for over 40 years. They toured campus, interacted with students and capped a long day with karaoke at the Harlaxton Manor.
Thursday, they practiced at Harlaxton in the morning before traveling back to London. Friday involved more touring, including a stop at Arsenal FC’s Emirates Stadium. UE did another walking tour before playing Saturday night’s game on the University of East London’s campus at the SportsDock.
UE will spend Sunday and Monday in Belgium. They play again Monday at 1 p.m. CDT (8 p.m. local) against Gembo Borgerhout, which finished third in the top Belgium professional league last season. They’ll also tour the cities of Gent and Bruges.
The team departs Friday following their third and final game Wednesday in Paris, where they’ll spend a few days sight-seeing.
“It should be a fun season,” McCarty said. “We have to continue to learn as much as we can on this trip and if we do that and still win ballgames, it’s certainly a positive for us.”