The Valparaiso men's basketball team sliced a double-digit second-half deficit to just two points and were within one possession with less than five minutes to play, but Illinois scored 13 of the next 14 points to pull away late, as the Crusaders fell 64-52 Wednesday evening at the State Farm Center in Champaign, Ill.
Trailing by eight coming out of the break, the Crusaders' deficit remained right around there for a good bit of the second half. Valpo went on a 7-1 spurt early in the half after Illinois scored the first basket out of the break, closing the gap to within 36-32, but could not get it down to one possession at that point. The Illini answered with a 9-2 run of their own to earn their largest lead to that point, going ahead 45-34 with 14:16 to play.
The teams traded baskets over the next six minutes, but that amounted to just two buckets apiece, as the Crusaders were still down 49-39 with 8:30 to go. But Valpo was able to string together baskets to quickly move within one possession. Senior LaVonte Dority (Chicago, Ill./Foreman [USF]) started the run with a mid-range jumper, and then following a long-range miss from the Illini, Dority found himself with room to shoot and knocked down a 3-pointer, bringing Valpo within five.
After forcing another empty possession from Illinois, the Crusaders came down and missed a triple. But fifth-year senior Bobby Capobianco (Loveland, Ohio/Loveland [Indiana]) rebounded the miss to keep the possession alive, and 10 seconds later connected on a 3-pointer of his own to make it a 49-47 game with 6:43 to go. But with the chance to tie or take the lead on each of their next two trips, Valpo couldn't come up with points, and Illinois then scored on four straight possessions as the Crusaders went over six minutes without a field goal.
Illinois jumped out to a double-digit lead quickly on Wednesday, going up 15-5 just over six minutes into the game before freshman Lexus Williams (Chicago, Ill./Marist) made it a single-digit game with a 3-pointer. Later in the half, a pair of baskets from freshman Alec Peters (Washington, Ill./Washington) bookended a fast-break layup by senior Jordan Coleman (N. Hollywood, Calif./Calabasas [Southwestern Ill. College/Hawai'i]), as the Crusaders cut the Illini lead to two points.
The game remained within two possessions for almost the entirety of the remainder of the half, with a pair of free throws by Coleman bringing Valpo within 28-25 with one minute to play in the opening period. But Illinois connected on a pair of free throws, and with the chance to run the game clock nearly all the way down, the Crusaders turned the ball over. The Illini took advantage of their extra possession, knocking down a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to make it 33-25 at the break.
Coleman led Valpo on Wednesday with 15 points and also paced the Crusaders on the glass with eight rebounds. Dority added 12 points, but no other Valpo player was able to get to double figures. The Crusaders shot just 32.7% (17-of-52) from the floor and 55% (11-of-20) from the foul line, but did connect on 7-of-18 from behind the 3-point line.
Rayvonte Rice paced four Illinois (3-0) players in double digits with 18 points and also pulled down eight boards. Joseph Bertrand chipped in 14 points, while Jon Ekey came up with a game-best 15 rebounds. Illinois shot just 31.8% (21-of-66) from the floor, but grabbed 18 offensive rebounds and committed just eight turnovers.
Valparaiso (2-1) will look to get back on the winning track on Sunday afternoon, as the Crusaders travel to Athens, Ohio to take on the Bobcats of Ohio. Game time is set for 1 p.m. CT, and all the action can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network. Links for the live audio, as well as live stats, will be available at ValpoAthletics.com.