Valparaiso, Ind. - Valpo clinched its 8th Mid-Continent Conference regular season championship in the last nine years with a 77-71 victory over IUPUI. Stalin Ortiz led the Crusaders (17-8, 11-1 Mid-Con) with 21 points, six rebounds and four steals in the home finale. Kikas Gomes netted 12 points and Raitis Grafs added 10 points and four blocked shots.
Valpo secured its sixth straight win by making eight-of-10 free throws in the final 50 seconds. Gomes drained five-of-six charity tosses in the last 41 seconds.
Behind 11 second-half points from Ortiz and 10 from Grafs, Valpo increased a 35-26 halftime lead to as many as 17 (68-51) with 6:06 remaining. Grafs, one of six Valpo seniors playing his final home game, made four short jumpers in the first 5:15 of the second half to help the Crusaders extend the lead. Ortiz scored seven of his second-half points from the free throw line.
Matt Crenshaw, who topped IUPUI (15-13, 8-4 Mid-Con) with a career-high 24 points, scored six points during a 13-1 run that cut Valpo's lead to 66-64 with 1:05 left. A free throw by Seth Colclasure and two more by Gomes established an eight-point Valpo advantage with 41 seconds remaining. The Jaguars could get no closer than the final score the rest of the way.
In the first half, IUPUI raced out to a 5-0 lead before Gomes converted a layup with 18:02 left. Roberto Nieves, who scored seven points and tied Ortiz for team-high rebounding honors with six, swished a 3-pointer from the left corner to cut the Jaguars' lead to 7-5. After Gomes made a layup to tie the game at 7-7 with 16:22 remaining, Dan Oppland gave Valpo its first lead (9-7) with a layup.
Consecutive 3-pointers by Chris Sanders and Josh Mullins gave IUPUI a 15-9 advantage at the 13:23 mark. Two, 3-pointers by Greg Tonagel and six points by Ortiz ignited a 19-2 run, which gave Valpo a 28-17 lead with 7:57 left. Antti Nikkila also made two short jumpers during the stretch.
Tonagel tallied nine points and dished out a game-high seven assists, while Ali Berdiel had six assists and two steals for Valpo. Odell Bradley scored 12 points and Sanders and Mullins added 12 and 10 points, respectively for IUPUI. Josh Murray topped IUPUI with nine rebounds.
Valpo finished shooting 48 percent overall (24 of 50), including 43 percent (6 of 14) from 3-point range. IUPUI shot 36 percent overall (21 of 59), including 26 percent from beyond the arc (5 of 19). The Crusaders made 23 of 37 free throw attempts to the Jaguars' 24 of 32.
Following the game, Valpo seniors Grafs, Tonagel, Ortiz, Nikkila, Phil Wille and Jason Hawkins addressed the near-capacity crowd with farewell speeches.
The win marked the earliest clinching of a Mid-Con regular season title in Valpo's history. The Crusaders have won 12 of their last 13 games.
Valpo travels to play at UMKC on Thursday at 7 p.m.