Kansas City, Mo. - Kikas Gomes scored 23 points, including 18 in the second half, as Valpo came back from a 12-point second-half deficit to defeat IUPUI 75-70 to capture its 8th Mid-Continent Conference Tournament Championship. The Crusaders (18-12) advance to their 7th NCAA Tournament. Valpo won both the regular season and tournament titles for the 7th time.
The Crusaders made 5-of-6 free throws and came away with a key steal in the final 26 seconds to secure the win.
Gomes, Dan Oppland and Ali Berdiel were each named to the All-Tournament Team.
Berdiel tallied 16 points and six assists, Roberto Nieves added 13 points and seven rebounds, and Oppland contributed 10 points. Odell Bradley, who was named tournament MVP, led IUPUI (21-11) with 26 points and eight rebounds. Matt Crenshaw added 18 points and Brandon Cole had 13 for the Jaguars.
After trailing for most of the game and by eight with 7:18 left, Valpo went on an 8-0 run to tie the game at 60-60 with 6:08 remaining. Gomes was fouled on a thunderous dunk and made the free throw before Jimmie Miles swished a 3-pointer from the corner to bring the Crusaders within two. Gomes added another sensational dunk off an assist from Berdiel to force the first tie since the early going.
Crenshaw made a driving layup, but Oppland made a short jumper to tie the contest at 62-62 at the 4:24 mark. The Crusaders took their first lead (64-62) with 3:37 left when Berdiel hooked up with Nieves on an alley-oop basket. Valpo completed a 6-0 run with Berdiel's two free throws to extend the lead to 66-62 with 2:01 left.
IUPUI, who defeated Valpo 66-64 in last season's Mid-Con title game on Crenshaw's last-second shot, kept the pressure on with two Akeem Clark free throws.
Gomes, who averaged 18 points in the three-game tourney, converted an offensive rebound putback before Crenshaw hit a short jumper to cut Valpo's lead to 68-66 with 1:05 remaining.
Oppland responded with a layup, but Crenshaw dropped in two free throws to trim the lead to 70-68 at the 28-second mark. With IUPUI forced to foul, Oppland netted two charity tosses prior to Bradley's jumper.
With Valpo leading 72-70, sixth-year senior Greg Tonagel made two free throws with 18 seconds left to expand the lead to 74-70. Berdiel and Tonagel then pressured Crenshaw into a turnover as Tonagel came away with a steal. Berdiel split a pair of free throws with four seconds left.
Nieves, who made three, 3-pointers overall, and Oppland each scored eight points in the decisive second half. Both teams shot the ball effectively in the final 20 minutes, each making 54 percent from the floor.
In the first half, IUPUI made 5-of-12, 3-point shots and led by as many as 12 with 4:33 remaining. Valpo ended the half with an 8-2 run to close the halftime gap to 35-29 as Berdiel and Gomes each made 3-pointers during the stretch. Cole made three treys for 11 first-half points and Bradley added 10.
The Crusaders shot 43 percent overall, including 8-of-18 (44 percent) from beyond the arc. Led by Bradley's 11-of-21 shooting, IUPUI finished with a 47 percent mark, including 6-of-18 from 3-point territory.
Kenny Harris tied Nieves for team-high rebounding honors (7) as Valpo outrebounded IUPUI 37-33. Second-chance points played a significant factor as Valpo outscored IUPUI 22-7 on extra possessions. The Crusaders won the turnover battle, committing nine to 11 for the Jaguars.
Valpo made 71 percent (15-of-21) of its free throw attempts to 64 percent (14-of-22) for IUPUI.
The NCAA Tournament appearance will be Valpo's first since 2002. Valpo has played IUPUI in the Mid-Con Tournament title game in each of the last three years. The Crusaders won 88-55 in 2002.
For the first time in school history, both the Valpo men's and women's basketball teams claimed Mid-Con Tournament titles and NCAA Tournament berths in the same season. The Crusaders' women's team defeated Oral Roberts 64-63 to win its second straight conference tourney championship and NCAA berth.
The University will host an NCAA Tournament Pairings Party on Sunday beginning at 3 p.m. in the ARC.