In a game which saw nearly the entirety of the final 12 minutes played with no more than a three-point lead either way, it was Valparaiso which consistently came up with plays down the stretch, as the Crusaders scored on 12 of their final 13 possessions, including a perfect 8-of-8 effort from the foul line in the final minute, to pull out a 74-71 victory at Youngstown State on Thursday evening.
Kamren Belin connected on a triple for the Penguins with 2:14 to play to erase a two-point Crusader lead and give YSU the advantage, but Valpo came back down and got a driving layup from sophomore Keith Carter (Maywood, Ill./Proviso East [Saint Louis]) to re-claim the lead at 66-65. Belin was then fouled on YSU’s next possession and hit two free throws, but senior Lavonte Dority (Chicago, Ill./Foreman [USF]) answered by hitting both ends of a 1-and-1 with 55.8 seconds to play to make it 68-67 Crusaders.
After a timeout by each team, the Penguins missed a 3-pointer on their next possession and fifth-year senior Moussa Gueye (Thies, Senegal/SEED Academy [Alabama/Lake Land (Ill.) College]) closed out his strong night by securing the rebound and drawing a foul. Gueye calmly stepped up to the line and hit both free throws to push the lead to three points with 24.3 seconds remaining.
YSU split a pair on its next possession to make it 70-68 Valpo with 12.1 seconds to play, and following a timeout, the Crusaders were able to successfully run five seconds off the clock before Dority was fouled. The senior hit both free throws to make it a two-possession game, but Kendrick Perry hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 72-71 with 1.8 seconds to go. Before the ball was inbounded, Carter was fouled, but the sophomore calmly hit both free throws for the final score, as the Penguins’ final halfcourt heave was off the mark.
It was a tight game throughout the second half thanks to a spirited rally at the start of the second half, led by Dority. A mid-range jumper from freshman Alec Peters (Washington, Ill./Washington) and a 3-pointer by Dority on the Crusaders’ first two possessions quickly cut a nine-point deficit to four points, and four minutes into the half, Peters knocked down a 3-pointer to make it a two-point game. Freshman Jubril Adekoya (Tinley Park, Ill./Andrew) finished inside to tie the game up just 4:33 into the second half, as Valpo out-scored the Penguins 13-4 over the opening stretch.
YSU briefly reclaimed the lead, but Dority nailed a deep jumper and then took a feed from freshman Clay Yeo (Bourbon, Ind./Triton) on the fast break and hit a 3-pointer for his 10th point of the second half, just 6:44 into the period. Then, following a timeout, the Penguins were assessed a technical foul, with Dority hitting two free throws to give Valpo its largest lead at 47-42 with 13:08 to play.
Dority picked up his fourth foul just 39 seconds later, forcing him to the bench for a stretch, and the Penguins took advantage, scoring eight straight to go ahead 50-47 with 9:28 to go. A pair of baskets from Adekoya over the next two minutes kept Valpo within one possession, with the second of the two starting the extremely efficient offense over the closing stretch.
Peters would keep the Crusaders within one point with a putback with 6:47 to play, and a fast-break 3-point play from Adekoya tied things up at 56 apiece inside of six minutes to go. YSU scored a pair of points on each of its next three possessions, but Carter hit a short jumper in the paint and then Gueye was able to get deep post position on consecutive trips, hitting two free throws and then converting a layup to make it 62-62 with 3:45 remaining. Carter then came up with a steal on the defensive end and finished on the fast break to give the Crusaders a two-point lead and set up the final sequence.
Valpo needed a rally early in the second half to get back into the game after a fitful first 20 minutes. The Crusaders shot just 9-of-26 (34.6%) from the field in the first half and committed 11 turnovers which YSU converted into 17 points. The game was tied at 13 just over 11 minutes in, but YSU went on a 13-3 run to take a double-digit lead, one which it pushed to as much as 11 points before Dority drove for a layup in the waning seconds of the half to make it 36-27 at the break.
Dority continued his strong recent play, as the reigning Horizon League co-Player of the Week finished with 27 points for the second straight game. The senior went 8-of-12 from the floor, including 3-of-4 from downtown, and was also a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line. Adekoya finished with 13 points, going 4-of-7 from the floor and 5-of-7 from the line, and Gueye closed in double figures for just the second time as a Crusader, scoring a career-best 11 points, including a perfect 5-of-5 mark from the stripe.
Peters led a balanced Crusader effort on the boards, pulling down seven rebounds, while Gueye added six rebounds and Adekoya and junior Vashil Fernandez (Kingston, Jamaica/Princeton Day [Md.] Academy) each grabbed five boards. Valpo ended the night with a 35-20 edge on the glass and scored 14 second-chance points on 11 offensive rebounds. The Crusaders continued their strong free throw shooting of late as well, going 22-of-25 (88%) from the line, their third straight game over 80%.
Youngstown State (12-9, 3-3 Horizon) received 16 points and eight rebounds from Bobby Hain, while Perry was second on the team with 15 points. Valpo held Perry without a field goal for over 14 and a half minutes in the second half until his last-second 3-pointer, however. Ryan Weber chipped in 14 points and DJ Cole 12 as well.
Valparaiso (12-9, 4-2 Horizon) looks for the rare Horizon League road trip sweep on Saturday afternoon at Cleveland State. Tipoff is slated for 1 p.m. CT, and 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.