The combination of a career-high 33-point performance in a homecoming game from senior Lavonte Dority (Chicago, Ill./Foreman [USF]) on the offensive end and a program record-tying seven blocked shots by junior Vashil Fernandez (Kingston, Jamaica/Princeton Day [Md.] Academy) on the defensive side of the ball propelled Valparaiso to a 70-46 victory over UIC Saturday afternoon in Chicago, Ill.
Dority took his hot play of late, which saw him enter the game averaging 22 points per game over the last five contests, and raised it to another level on Saturday in his return to Chicago. The senior, who had 18 points at UIC last season, matched his recent average in the first half alone, capping a 22-point half with an NBA range 3-pointer right before the halftime horn. Dority ended the game with 33 points on 10-of-15 shooting, connecting on 5-of-6 from beyond the 3-point line, and 8-of-10 from the foul line. It marked Dority’s second 30-point performance of the year, making him one of just six Crusaders in the last 18 years to score 30-plus points multiple times in a career.
Meanwhile, Fernandez stepped up his already-strong defensive play within Horizon League action, patrolling the paint like a pro on Saturday. The junior, who entered the game second in the league in league-only play with 2.6 blocks per game, swatted four shots in the first half and set a new career high with his sixth block at the 9:31 mark of the second half. Fernandez then tied Valpo’s program single-game record of seven, set by Zoran Viskovic against Northern Illinois in 1998, on a block with 2:12 to play.
It was a back-and-forth battle through much of the first half between the two squads, as Valpo extended to its largest lead at seven with 7:26 left in the period before an 8-3 mini-spurt by UIC closed the Crusader edge to two points at the 3:52 mark. But a 3-pointer by freshman Alec Peters (Washington, Ill./Washington) started off an 12-1 run for the Crusaders to close the half, with Dority scoring the rest of the run’s nine points. Dority came up with a steal and fast-break dunk, hit all four of his free throw attempts and capped the half with his buzzer-beating 3-pointer, making it 36-23 Valpo at the break.
Valpo maintained the double-digit advantage throughout the entirety of the second half, with the lead between 15 and 17 points much of that time. UIC got to as close as 12 points following a 3-pointer with 7:59 to play, but Dority came down and hit a jumper off a feed from Lexus Williams (Chicago, Ill./Marist) on Valpo’s next possession to keep the Flames from getting any closer. The Crusaders would then close out one of their top defensive performances of the season by not giving up a point over the final 3:54 of the game, finishing on a 10-0 run.
Beyond Dority, no other Crusader finished the game in double figures in the scoring column, as nine points from Williams marked Valpo’s second-highest output. Fernandez led the Crusaders on the glass with seven rebounds, while Dority, Peters and Moussa Gueye (Thies, Senegal/SEED Academy [Alabama/Lake Land (Ill.) College]) tallied five boards each. Dority also matched a career best with three steals on Saturday.
The Crusaders limited UIC (5-18, 0-9 Horizon) to just 26.8% shooting from the floor, holding the Flames under 30% in both halves. Three Flames – Jake Wiegand, Marc Brown and Kelsey Barlow – tied for team-high honors with eight points apiece, but did so on a combined 7-of-27 shooting. Wiegand led all players with eight rebounds, while Barlow handed out five assists.
Valparaiso (14-10, 6-3 Horizon) moved back into a tie for second place in the Horizon League standings with Saturday’s win, and will have nearly a full week until its next game, a Friday night 8 p.m. tip against Detroit at the ARC. The game will be televised live nationally on ESPNU, and as always, can be heard on the Valpo Sports Radio Network. Links for live video and audio, as well as live stats, will be available through ValpoAthletics.com.