Prior to Friday night's regular season opener against Murray State, the Valparaiso men's basketball program unveiled Horizon League championship and NCAA Tournament banners commemorating last year's squad. Then this year's team took over, taking its first step toward defending the title with a 77-74 victory over the Racers at the ARC.
The first half saw Murray State lead for the majority of the first 15-plus minutes, but the Crusaders never let the Racers pull away. Murray State gained its largest lead at five points following a pair of free throws by Dexter Fields with 4:45 left in the half, going ahead 25-20, but Valpo ended the half on an 18-6 run to go into the half up by seven points at 38-31.
Valpo scored six straight over a three-possession span, including a fast-break two-handed slam from freshman Clay Yeo (Bourbon, Ind./Triton) and a coast-to-coast play by senior Jordan Coleman (North Hollywood, Calif./Calabasas [Southwestern Ill. College/Hawai'i]), to go ahead 26-25 before the Racers briefly reclaimed the lead with three free throws. Junior Vashil Fernandez (Kingston, Jamaica/Princeton Day [Md.] Academy) gave Valpo the lead for good with an offensive rebound and putback for a 3-point play, and then the next time down the court, threw down a monster one-handed slam to energize the ARC crowd.
Valpo kept the Racers at bay throughout the second half, extending its lead to as many as 12 points at 54-42 with 12:26 to go following a free throw from fifth-year senior Bobby Capobianco (Loveland, Ohio/Loveland [Indiana]). Murray State crawled back into the game, getting within one possession at 68-65 with 5:21 to play on a fast-break basket from Fields, but Valpo responded with an old-fashioned 3-point play from freshman Alec Peters (Washington, Ill./Washington) to go back up by six.
Murray State would cut its deficit to two points on three separate occasions down the stretch, but each time Valpo came up with a basket. Coleman drove for a layup with 1:27 to play to extend the Crusader lead back out to four points, and then after the Racers got back within two at 74-72 with 42 seconds left, Valpo wound the shot clock nearly all the way down before putting the ball in the hands of senior LaVonte Dority (Chicago, Ill./Foreman [USF]), who finished at the rim with 8.8 seconds remaining. The Racers got the ball back with one last chance to tie, trailing by three with two seconds on the clock, but Coleman intercepted the three-quarters court pass to seal the Valpo win.
Coleman led the balanced Crusader offense on Friday with 16 points, including an 8-of-8 performance from the foul line. Fernandez scored a career-best 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting off the bench, while Peters added 12 points in his Valpo debut. Coleman and Peters each grabbed eight rebounds to go with seven from Fernandez as well, as Valpo out-rebounded the Racers, 44-35.
Murray State (0-1) got a game-high 21 points out of Cameron Payne, but Payne went just 6-of-24 from the floor to get there. Fields and Tyler Rambo each scored 12 points as well for the Racers.
Valparaiso (1-0) returns to the ARC Sunday afternoon to host North Park at 1:35 p.m. If you can't make it to the game, listen live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network or watch live on the Horizon League Network. Links for the live video and audio streams, as well as live stats, will be available at ValpoAthletics.com.