Valparaiso, Ind. - Valpo defeated Chicago State 74-66 to capture its 9th Mid-Continent Conference Regular Season Championship in the last 10 years. Dan Oppland had game highs of 20 points and a career-high 13 rebounds and three other Crusaders scored in double figures.
Kikas Gomes netted 15 points, Jimmie Miles tallied 14 and Kenny Harris added 10 for Valpo. Chicago State was led by Craig Franklin and Rubeen Perry with 16 points each, while Deji Akindele had 14 points, nine rebounds and five blocked shots.
Valpo (15-12, 11-5) earned the #1 seed in the Mid-Con Tournament, which will be held Sunday-Tuesday, March 7-9 at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Mo. The Crusaders will oppose #8 seed Oakland (13-16) on Sunday at noon CST.
Perfect free throw shooting (6-6) in the final 23 seconds secured the victory after Chicago State (11-19, 9-7) had pulled within 68-65 with 26 seconds remaining. Greg Tonagel made two free throws with 23 seconds left to extend the lead to 70-65. After Akindele split a pair of charity tosses, Oppland drained two free throws with 11 seconds left. Gomes converted two more freebies with one second remaining for the final score.
The game was close throughout as evidenced by eight ties and seven lead changes. Led by Franklin's nine early points, CSU took a 13-5 lead with 14:07 left in the first half.
Oppland scored six points to ignite a 9-0 run which gave Valpo a 14-13 advantage with 10:50 left. The first half featured six more lead changes and six ties before the Crusaders had a scoring spurt in the last 3:30 of the half. With the scored tied at 27-27, Miles hit a 3-pointer and Oppland and Harris made layups as Valpo outscored the Cougars 7-3 to take a 34-30 halftime lead.
Akindele and Weeden scored four points each as CSU cut its deficit to 41-40 with 15:33 remaining. Gomes and Oppland each made layups to push the lead to 46-40 at the 13:38 mark.
Three-pointers by Gomes and Tonagel, along with two free throws by Harris expanded Valpo's advantage to 54-44 with 11:15 left. The Crusaders would also lead by 10 (57-47) with 8:41 remaining before CSU outscored the Crusaders 13-6 to pull within three (63-60) at the 3:20 mark.
Oppland, who leads Valpo in scoring (15.4 ppg.), responded with two baskets - the second accompanied by a free throw with 1:58 remaining - as the Crusaders took a 68-61 lead.
CSU's Tony Weeden followed with five straight points during a 5-0 run to bring the Cougars within 68-65 before Tonagel, Oppland and Gomes drained their free throws down the stretch.
Valpo's bench proved to be a difference as the Crusader reserves outscored the CSU bench 31-12. Valpo finished shooting 52 percent overall, including 42 percent (5-12) from 3-point range. CSU was limited to 35 percent, including 36 percent (4-11) from beyond the arc.
The Cougars kept the game close at the free throw line, making 24 of 35 (69 percent) to 21 of 29 (72 percent) for the Crusaders. Valpo outrebounded CSU 34-30. The Crusaders committed 19 turnovers to 14 for the Cougars.
Ali Berdiel, Tonagel and Harris each dished out four assists.
Valpo's conference championship run (9 in 10 years) is the most of any school in the nation over the last decade. The Crusaders have won at least 10 Mid-Con games in each of the last 11 years.