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Evansville's Cunliffe elects to opt out of upcoming season, will transfer

Evansville's Cunliffe elects to opt out of upcoming season, will transfer

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SIU forward Marcus Domask (1) goes in for a layup past Evansville guard Sam Cunliffe (20) during the first half at the Banterra Center on Thursday in Carbondale.

CARBONDALE — Evansville's men's basketball team will play the upcoming season without its best player, according to a report from the Evansville Courier & Press on Wednesday night.

Sam Cunliffe, the Purple Aces' leading returning scorer at 11.2 points per game, is opting out of the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 and will transfer, according to the report. A fifth-year senior, he will be able to retain his final year of eligibility for 2021-22 because of a new NCAA rule that is extending an extra year of eligibility to all winter athletes.

Evansville, which was picked last in the Missouri Valley Conference preseason poll released earlier this month, lost its final 19 games of the tumultuous 2019-20 season. The Aces went 0-18 in the Valley and dropped their first game at the MVC Tournament against Valparaiso in St. Louis. Evansville beat Ball State in its first game, and then beat No. 1 Kentucky on the road behind Cunliffe's 17 points off the bench. They were 9-4 before conference play and finished a school record-worst 9-23.

Coach Walter McCarty was put on administrative leave because of alleged Title IX violations, and eventually let go. The Aces went from McCarty to interim coach Bennie Seltzer, an assistant coach at the time, before hiring Todd Lickliter as its new coach in January. Cunliffe was one of two returning starters for the Aces, along with point guard Juwaun Newton (5.5 points, 2.8 rebounds per game last season). 

— Todd Hefferman

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