Valparaiso opened its quest for a third consecutive Horizon League regular season title Thursday evening, rallying from an eight-point halftime deficit with a 55-point second half to down UIC 87-72 at the ARC.
The Crusaders needed just 5:26 to take the lead in the second half after trailing 40-32 at the break, its first lead in nearly 20 minutes. Valpo then took the lead for good with 9:18 to play. The Crusaders shot 68.2% (15-of-22) from the field in the second half, including six 3-pointers, and also hit 19 free throws while committing just two turnovers for a 55-point half, outscoring UIC 55-32 in the final 20 minutes.
Freshman Lexus Williams (Chicago, Ill./Marist) got the Crusaders started strong in the second half, scoring eight points in the first two minutes, and an inside basket from senior Jordan Coleman (North Hollywood, Calif./Calabasas [Southwestern Ill. College/Hawai'i]) brought Valpo within 44-42 with 17:30 to play. UIC would extend its edge back out to six points, but the Crusaders continued to push, getting a fast-break triple from freshman Alec Peters (Washington, Ill./Washington) and a tip-in from Coleman before a 3-point play by sophomore Keith Carter (Maywood, Ill./Proviso East [Saint Louis]) gave Valpo a 51-50 lead at the 14:34 mark.
The lead traded hands a number of times over the next few minutes, with UIC’s Gabe Snider hitting a 3-pointer with 12:04 to play to give the Flames a 59-56 advantage. Valpo would hold UIC scoreless over the next five minutes, however, going on a 9-0 run over the span to take the lead for good. A pair of Crusaders split two free throws before senior Lavonte Dority (Chicago, Ill./Foreman [USF]) hit two free throws with 9:18 to go to give Valpo the lead.
Carter came up with a steal and fast-break layup on the next possession, and then two trips later, nailed a step-over 3-pointer to push the Crusader lead to 65-59 with 7:36 to go. UIC got back to within three points at the 6:40 mark, but Dority hit freshman Jubril Adekoya (Tinley Park, Ill./Andrew) for a big 3-pointer to make it a six-point game again. Adekoya’s triple started a stretch where Valpo scored 11 points in five possessions to secure the win.
Adekoya came up with a lunging steal on the defensive end and hit Dority on the fast break, who finished an old-fashioned 3-point play. Two possessions later, it was Carter taking the ball coast-to-coast after a UIC miss, and the sophomore canned a triple on the next trip down the court to make it 77-65 Valpo. The lead would not fall under double digits the rest of the way.
Valpo held a few early leads in the first half, but never led by more than two points. The Flames held the advantage for the vast majority of the opening 20 minutes, with their lead staying mostly between four and six points. A Dority 3-pointer with four minutes to go in the half brought the Crusaders within one, but UIC extended its lead before the break, scoring five points in the final minute to take the 40-32 lead into the locker room.
Carter, playing his fourth career game in a Valpo uniform and his first at the ARC, tied for game-high honors with 19 points, missing just one of his eight field goal attempts. The sophomore led four Crusaders in double figures, as Dority scored 14 points and also added six assists. Coleman tallied 13 points and led the Crusaders with six rebounds, while Williams added 11 points and three assists. Valpo ended the game shooting 57.4% (27-of-47) from the floor, including 10-of-18 (55.6%) from deep.
Marc Brown led UIC (5-10, 0-1 Horizon) with 19 points, while Kelsey Barlow scored 13 and Hayden Humes 12. Jordan Harks added nine points and eight rebounds. The Flames shot better than 50% for the game, but were just 1-of-7 from 3-point range in the second half after going 5-of-8 from deep in the opening 20 minutes.
Valparaiso (9-7, 1-0 Horizon) continues league play Saturday evening at Oakland with a 5 p.m. CT tip. As always, the game can be seen live on the Horizon League Network and heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network. Links for the live video and audio, as well as live stats, will be available at ValpoAthletics.com.