Evansville Purple Aces

The Evansville purple aces are the intercollegiate sports teams and players of the University of Evansville. The Aces participate in the NCAA’s Division I in 14 sports and became a member of the Missouri Valley Conference in 1994, except for the men’s swimming and diving team which competes in the Mid-American Conference. The school’s official colors are purple, white and orange.

Prior to joining Division I in 1977, the Aces were in fifteen of the twenty Division II men’s basketball championship tournaments held, winning the title in 1959, ’60, ’64, ’65, and ’71. Since 1977, the Aces have made five trips to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and two to the NIT.

Mascot

The University of Evansville‘s nickname, the Aces, was acquired after an opposing coach cracked a joke after losing to the Evansville College Pioneers in the 1920s. Dan Scism, the sportswriter credited with first using the name ‘Aces’ in headlines, said he did so at the suggestion of basketball coach John Harmon in 1926. “Prior to that the Aces had been called Pioneers,” Scism said, “but Coach Harmon suggested I call them the Aces because he was told by Louisville’s coach that he didn’t have four aces up his sleeve, he had five!”

Forty years after Aces came into being, mascot ‘Ace Purple’ was created by  . Ace Purple is a turn-of-the century riverboat gambler, appropriate since Evansville is located on the banks of the Ohio River. However, the first Ace Purple was a rough, mean-looking character who did not go over well with Aces’ fans. Artist Keith Butz softened ‘Ace’ in 1977 into a smiling, friendly figure who remains popular with young and old alike.

Baseball

Four players from the Purple Aces baseball team have appeared in Major League Baseball: Andy Benes, Sal Fasano, Jamey Carroll, and Rob Maurer.

Basketball

The University of Evansville athletics department was built upon a foundation of success in men’s basketball. In the early years of the men’s basketball program the Purple Aces appeared in the NAIA national tournament. The Purple Aces appeared 4 times in the NAIA Tournament (1941, 1942, 1951, and 1955). The Purple Aces had a NAIA tournament record of 3-4. The furthest distance Evansville got in the NAIA tournaments was in third round (NAIA Quarterfinals) in 1951, only to lose to Regis University (Colo.) 70-68.

Shortly after the 1955 season the Purple Aces would move up to the NCAA College Division, now called NCAA Division II. The Evansville Purple Aces won five national championships in the NCAA College Division: 1959, 1960, 1964, 1965 (29-0 record) and 1971. This ranks second all-time.

In 1977 UE began playing in NCAA Division I athletics. That same year on December 13, a chartered DC-3 carrying the entire UE basketball team crashed in a field near the Evansville Regional Airport en route to a game against Middle Tennessee State. Every member of the team and coaching staff on the plane was killed. Legendary Aces coach Arad McCutchan, had retired after the previous season and was not on the plane. McCutchan was the first NCAA College Division coach selected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.One player was not able to attend the game and thus was not on the plane; not long after the plane crash, however, the player who was not on the plane was killed in a car accident along with his younger brother.

Tremendous community support brought back the basketball program the next year. Evansville was a charter member of the Midwest Collegiate Conference, now known as the Horizon League. The Aces won or shared the MCC regular season title in 1982, 1987, 1989, 1992, and 1993. They also won the conference tournament title in 1982, 1992, and 1993. The Aces are now a member of the Missouri Valley Conference, and won the 1999 regular season title.

The Purple Aces have made five trips to the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament (1982, 1989, 1992, 1993, 1999) and two trips to the NIT (1998, 1994).

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