Valparaiso, Ind. - Roberto Nieves scored a career-high 16 points and Raitis Grafs also tallied 16 as Valpo (6-7, 1-0 Mid-Con) defeated Western Illinois 74-57 in the Mid-Continent Conference opener. Valpo drained a season-high 11 three-pointers on 26 attempts (42 percent).
The Crusaders opened the game with a 10-0 run, with Ali Berdiel scoring eight of Valpo's early points. Western Illinois (3-9, 0-1 Mid-Con) then scored its first basket of the game three minutes in and went on a 9-0 run to close within one point with 13:56 left in the first.
Valpo then outscored the Leathernecks 10-2 over the next two minutes. However, Western Illinois came right back and went on a 13-1 run, largely due to Will Lewis, who scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half. Lewis' production helped Western Illinois lead 24-21 with just over six minutes left in the half.
Valpo then took over and went on a 17-4 run to take a 38-28 halftime lead. Nieves was a big factor as well in the half, scoring 11 points, including nine points from beyond the arc (3-3).
The second half began well for the Crusaders as they outscored Western Illinois 21-10 to lead by 21 with 11:28 left in the game. The Crusaders never looked back, as Western Illinois could only get as close as 13 points before Valpo put the game away for good.
Valpo shot 47 percent from the field, while the Leathernecks shot 43 percent overall, including 27 percent (4 of 15) from three-point land. Grafs scored 11 of his 16 points in the second half and had seven rebounds. Stalin Ortiz finished with 11 points and Joaquim Gomes finished with eight points and seven rebounds.
Berdiel also contributed nicely with eight assists, as Valpo finished the game with 18 assists, 10 steals, and 10 turnovers. J.D. Summers led Western Illinois with 13 points, while Barry Welsh dished out six assists.
Valpo's next game is Thursday against Southern Utah in the ARC at 7:05 p.m.