Chicago, Ill. ? Valpo came back from a 14-point deficit and had an opportunity to win the game in the final seconds before falling to 6th-ranked Notre Dame 55-53 at the United Center. Kikas Gomes led the Crusaders (5-7) with 17 points, including 10 in the second half. The game was played in front of a crowd of 11,716.
After Gomes made a 3-point shot with 1:07 remaining, he rebounded Dan Miller's jump shot with 37 seconds left. Following a timeout with 26 seconds remaining, Valpo's Greg Tonagel missed a 3-point shot from the right wing and time expired during the scramble for the ball.
Raitis Grafs added 12 points for Valpo, while Roberto Nieves contributed 11 points and six rebounds. Gomes and Stalin Ortiz snagged six boards each for the Crusaders. Matt Carroll topped the Irish (12-1) with 14 points, while Miller and Torin Francis scored 12 each. Francis, a freshman, grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds. Chris Thomas dished out seven assists for Notre Dame, while Tonagel had four for Valpo.
The Irish, who have won eight straight, held a 36-26 halftime lead after draining seven of 11 3-point shots in the second half. Miller, Thomas and Carroll scored eight points each in the first half as each made two, 3-point baskets. However, the Crusader defense shut down Notre Dame's 3-point attack as the Irish did not make a trey in six attempts over the last 20 minutes. Despite its second-half shooting woes from long range, the Irish led 46-32 with 12:44 remaining.
Still trailing by 11 (53-42) with 6:32 left, Grafs and Nieves each scored four points before Gomes swished a trey during an 11-2 Valpo run. The sequence set up the drama of the final seconds.
Valpo finished shooting 34 percent (19-56), while Notre Dame shot 44 percent (20-46). The Crusaders made five of 15 from 3-point territory. The teams were fairly even at the free throw line as Valpo converted 10 of 15 (67 percent) and the Irish made eight of 10 (80 percent). Notre Dame held a 35-32 edge on the glass. The Crusaders committed just six turnovers, while Notre Dame had 13 miscues.
Valpo hosts Western Illinois next Saturday (Jan. 11) at 7:05 p.m. CST in the Mid-Continent Conference opener.