Valparaiso led for the final 36 minutes of Saturday night’s Horizon League contest at Milwaukee, pulling away down the stretch for a 77-62 victory over the Panthers. The win keeps the Crusaders in a tie for second place in the league standings and puts Valpo two games ahead of fourth place.
Three straight baskets early on from freshmen Jubril Adekoya (Tinley Park, Ill./Andrew) and Lexus Williams (Chicago, Ill./Marist) and junior Vashil Fernandez (Kingston, Jamaica/Princeton Day [Md.] Academy) gave Valpo the lead for good, combining for a 7-0 run which made it 7-4 Crusaders 4:18 into the game. After a pair of Milwaukee free throws, both sides would go scoreless for nearly five minutes as Valpo clung to a one-point lead.
Sophomore Keith Carter (Maywood, Ill./Proviso East [Saint Louis]) broke the scoreless skid with a triple with 10:43 to play in the first half, and freshman Clay Yeo (Bourbon, Ind./Triton) followed with a 3-pointer of his own on Valpo’s next trip. Carter then connected on his second 3-pointer of the first half, and senior Jordan Coleman (North Hollywood, Calif./Calabasas [Southwestern Ill. College/Hawai'i]) got a putback basket on the next possession to cap a quick 11-2 Crusader spurt as the lead hit 18-8 with 8:59 left in the first half.
The lead would reach as many as 11 points in the opening period, following a 3-pointer by Coleman which made it 32-21 Crusaders with 2:07 to play in the opening period. Milwaukee would score the next five points to cut the lead to six, but a layup from fifth-year senior Bobby Capobianco (Loveland, Ohio/Loveland [Indiana]) inside the final minute gave Valpo a 34-26 halftime advantage into the locker room.
Milwaukee would cut the Crusader edge to four points a number of times early in the second half, but each time, Valpo players made plays to hold off the Panthers. Senior Lavonte Dority (Chicago, Ill./Foreman [USF]) twice converted at the rim, including an old-fashioned 3-point play, while freshman Alec Peters (Washington, Ill./Washington) scored inside on a set play during the opening stretch as well.
The Panthers got as close as they had been since the opening minutes on a Malcolm Moore 3-pointer with 12:52 remaining, as Valpo’s lead was cut to 45-43. But the Crusaders responded by not surrendering another point over the next 3:20, going on an 8-0 run over that stretch to push the lead back to 10 points. Carter hit a pair of free throws to open the run and also came up with a steal which led to a fast-break dunk for Coleman, one of two baskets for the senior during the run, while Dority also scored as Valpo pushed the lead back to 53-43 with 9:56 to play.
The Crusaders were faced with extreme foul trouble inside though, as Fernandez, Capobianco and Moussa Gueye (Thies, Senegal/SEED Academy [Alabama/Lake Land (Ill.) College]) all fouled out, the last coming with 9:05 to play and Valpo leading 53-46. Running a small lineup out there with Adekoya playing the five, the Crusaders maintained their lead, pushing it up to as many as 11 points before a 6-1 spurt from the Panthers cut the advantage to 61-55 with 4:51 to go.
On each of their next three possessions, though, the Crusaders would run 30 or more seconds off the clock and find the basket. First it was Peters grabbing a miss and laying it back up and in through traffic. Then, after Milwaukee split a pair of free throws, Dority drove all the way to the rim late in the shot clock and finished. On the next trip, it was again Dority with the big play, this time a stepback jumper from the free throw line which made it 67-56 Crusaders with 2:43 to go. Valpo hit all eight of its free throws from that point on to secure the win.
Dority paced the Crusaders in the winning effort, scoring 19 points, 13 of which came in the second half. Coleman registered his first double-double in a Valpo uniform, hitting all five of his shots from the field in a 14-point effort and pulling down a career-high 11 rebounds. Four other Crusaders tallied at least eight points in the balanced offensive effort as well. Valpo shot 51% (25-of-49) from the floor and 81.5% (22-of-27) from the foul line for the game.
Kyle Kelm led Milwaukee (16-10, 6-6 Horizon) with 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the floor and 8-of-10 from the foul line, while Matt Tiby added 14 points, including 10 free throws. The Crusaders limited the Panthers to just 31.7% (19-of-60) shooting from the field, while Milwaukee was just 3-of-29 from 3-point range. Valpo blocked six Panther shots, including four rejections from Gueye in just 12 minutes of action.
Valparaiso (16-11, 8-4 Horizon) faces its new biggest game of the year next time out, as the Crusaders travel to league-leading Green Bay on Thursday night for a 7 p.m. tipoff. As always, the game can be seen live on the Horizon League Network and heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network, with links for the live audio and video, as well as live stats, available through ValpoAthletics.com.