Rochester, Mich. – Kikas Gomes made two free throws with four seconds left and Valpo survived a 30-foot desperation miss at the buzzer to edge Oakland 72-70. The victory was the fifth straight for the first-place Crusaders (10-7), who improved their Mid-Continent Conference record to 5-0. Stalin Ortiz made a 3-point shot with 24 seconds left to tie the game at 70-70. Raitis Grafs scored 22 points for Valpo, which won despite a 37-point performance by Oakland's Mike Helms.
The heroics from Gomes were set up by a steal by Greg Tonagel, who passed the ball to Gomes with four seconds remaining. Helms immediately fouled the 6’9” junior, who calmly drained both free throws as the exuberant Oakland student section loomed in the background. With no timeouts left, Oakland’s final hopes depended on Helms, who dribbled the ball past halfcourt and launched a 30-foot shot into the tight defense of Ali Berdiel, Ortiz and Gomes. The shot banked off the backboard and off the front rim as time expired.
Valpo, which is 9-0 all-time against Oakland, staged a comeback to win. Despite leading by nine (46-37) with 15:34 left, Valpo lost the lead after the Golden Grizzlies went on a 25-10 run over the next 10 minutes to gain a 62-56 advantage. The Oakland scoring spree coincided in part with Grafs having to go to the bench at the 14:30 mark with his fourth foul. Helms scored 16 points during the run.
The Crusaders began their comeback with just under five minutes remaining and Oakland still leading 64-48. Tonagel made two free throws with 4:42 left to trim the deficit to four. After Helms split a pair of free throws, Ortiz tipped in a missed shot that cut the Golden Grizzlies’ lead to 65-62 with 3:27 remaining.
Following a steal by Berdiel, Grafs made a dunk off an assist from Berdiel to bring the Crusaders within one (65-64) at the three-minute mark. Ortiz stole the ball and converted two charity tosses with 2:03 left to help Valpo regain the lead (66-65). A layup by Rawle Marshall and a free throw by Pierre Dukes gave Oakland a 68-66 lead with 1:30 left. Grafs split two foul shots, but Marshall’s dunk with 31 seconds left stretched the Golden Grizzlies’ lead to 70-67.
Valpo quickly raced the ball into the frontcourt and Ortiz swished a 3-pointer from just left of the top of the key with 24 seconds remaining to tie the game at 70-70 and set up Tonagel’s steal and Gomes’ free throws.
The Crusaders scored the first seven points of the game and led by as many as 10 (31-21) with 5:23 left before taking a 34-31 halftime lead. Grafs scored 11 points and Nieves added nine in the first half.
Ortiz finished with 18 points and five rebounds, while Roberto Nieves (three, 3-pointers) added 14 points for the Crusaders. Berdiel led Valpo with six assists and Tonagel dished out four assists and made three steals. Gomes tallied eight points and snagged three steals.
Valpo finished shooting 50 percent overall (25-50), including 40 percent (8 for 20) from 3-point territory. Oakland, which shot 56 percent in the second half, made 44 percent (21-48) of its field goal attempts overall. The Golden Grizzlies made 33 percent (6 for 18) from 3-point range. Oakland held an advantage at the free throw line, making 22 of 28 (79 percent), compared to Valpo’s 14 of 23 (61 percent). Cortney Scott, who tallied 11 points for Oakland, grabbed 12 rebounds as the Golden Grizzlies outrebounded Valpo 34-26. Helms made 10 of 20 shots, including five of 11 from 3-point land, and converted 12 of 15 free throws. Valpo forced 18 Oakland turnovers, while committing 14.
The Crusaders host Oral Roberts (13-5, 4-1 Mid-Con) on Thursday at 7:05 p.m.