Macomb, Ill. ? Dan Oppland scored eight of his 22 points in overtime as Valpo defeated Western Illinois 81-79. The Crusaders (10-9, 7-3 Mid-Con) moved into first place in the Mid-Continent Conference by a half game over Oral Roberts (6-3) and IUPUI (6-3). The victory was the sixth straight for Valpo.
Oppland, who grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds to record a double-double, converted 12 of 14 free throw attempts. Ali Berdiel tallied 13 points and five assists, Kikas Gomes netted 12 points and Roberto Nieves added 11. Will Lewis led Western Illinois (3-18, 1-8) with a career-high 24 points, including 20 in the second half and overtime. Bobby Carter added 19 for the Leathernecks.
Western Illinois, which overcame a 13-point deficit in the final 5:24 of regulation, tied the game at 69-69 on T.J. Gray's 3-pointer with one second left. Greg Tonagel's two free throws with five seconds left had given Valpo a 69-66 lead.
In overtime, Western Illinois took a 71-69 lead on Keith Archie's two free throws before Berdiel made a baseline jumper to tie the score at 71-71. Valpo then passed the ball inside to Oppland, who responded with two free throws as the Crusaders regained a 73-71 advantage with 2:48 remaining. After two missed Leatherneck free throws, Oppland made a layup to extend the lead to four (75-71). Lewis turned in a conventional three-point play before Oppland dropped in another layup for a 77-74 lead. Carter drained a 3-pointer to tie the game at 77-77 with 1:12 left and Oppland put Valpo ahead for good with two more charity tosses at the 36-second mark.
Tonagel, who was playing his second game of the season, forced a travel by WIU's Barry Welsh with seven seconds left. A senior, Tonagel sank one of two free throws with six seconds left, but Gray made two free throws with five seconds remaining to pull the Leathernecks within one (80-79). Berdiel split a pair of free tosses with four seconds left before Doyle Cole missed a 10-foot running jumper at the buzzer.
Foul trouble became a challenge for Valpo as Gomes fouled out with 1:31 remaining in regulation and Nieves fouled out 19 seconds into overtime. Berdiel played the last 23 minutes with four fouls and Moussa Mbaye and Kenny Harris also had four fouls.
Valpo, which led most of the game, went on a 6-0 run to break a 16-16 tie and took a 34-28 halftime lead. Oppland and Nieves scored seven points each in the first 20 minutes.
The Crusaders' bench outscored the Western Illinois reserves 23-16. Tonagel finished with eight points and five assists, Mike Oppland added six points and Mbaye scored five.
Valpo shot 50 percent overall (28-56) and made 24 of 34 free throws (71 percent). Western Illinois, which made 39 percent (21-54) of its field goal attempts, came back as a result of outstanding free throw shooting (29-35, 83 percent). WIU made 8 of 24, 3-point shots, while Valpo made 1 of 12 from beyond the arc.
The Crusaders outrebounded WIU 39-33 and each team committed 17 turnovers.
Valpo improved its all-time record in overtime games against Western Illinois to 5-1, including a 5-0 mark under head coach Homer Drew.
Valpo continues a three-game road stretch at Centenary on Thursday beginning at 7:05 p.m.