Valparaiso, Ind. - Roberto Nieves drained two, 3-pointers, Ali Berdiel added another trey, and Dan Oppland and Seth Colclasure made two free throws each in the final 24 seconds as Valpo came back from a nine-point deficit in the final 3:29 to defeat Athletes In Action 79-75 in an exhibition game. Athletes In Action is comprised of former collegiate players.
Oppland (15 points, 11 rebounds) and Gomes (13 points, 14 rebounds) each recorded double-doubles. The Crusaders placed five players in double-figures as Berdiel scored 14, Nieves had 12 and Kenny Harris added 10 off the bench. Berdiel dished out seven assists and Gomes had four blocked shots. Valpo dominated the boards, outrebounding AIA 61-34. Joe Crispin led four AIA players with 22 points, while Shawn Redhage had 12.
Valpo erased its nine-point deficit when Berdiel took Colclasure's pass and swished a 3-pointer from the top of the key to tie the game at 75-75 with :59 remaining. Following Crispin's missed jumper, Valpo pushed the ball inside to Oppland who was fouled and converted two free throws with :24 left to give the Crusaders a 77-75 advantage.
On AIA's next possession, Gomes made the defensive play of the night when he blocked Ryan Sears' running jumper out of bounds with nine seconds left. Valpo's Ron Howard also turned in a defensive gem, forcing a travelling violation with seven seconds remaining to set up Colclasure's two game-clinching free throws.
After AIA led 39-34 at halftime, the second half featured eight lead changes and three ties. AIA built a nine-point lead (69-60) with 4:35 left when Crispin scored five points, including a 3-pointer, and David Daniels hit a trey to key an 8-0 run. AIA still maintained a nine-point advantage with 3:29 remaining before Nieves netted two straight threes, both on assists by Berdiel. Following two free throws by Sears, Oppland dropped in a layup from another Berdiel assist with 1:39 left to close AIA's lead to 75-72. Howard then stole Crispin's pass before Berdiel's 3-pointer knotted the game.
Crispin, who starred at Penn State, was the story of the first half, scoring 18 points on seven of 12 shooting. The first 20 minutes included eight lead changes and two ties. AIA led by as many as eight points with 3:50 remaining, but Valpo closed the gap on a 3-pointer by Jimmie Miles and a layup by Harris before halftime.
Valpo finished shooting 36 percent overall (29-80), including 23 percent (7-30) from 3-point range. AIA shot 41 percent from the floor (26-63), including 32 percent from beyond the arc. The Crusaders converted 70 percent (14-20) from the foul line, while AIA netted 74 percent (17-23) from the charity stripe.
The Crusaders open the regular season on Friday at 5:30 p.m. against Arkansas-Monticello in the Pepsi Blue & Gold Classic hosted by Marquette University in Milwaukee's Bradley Center.