Behind a sterling effort in his postseason debut from freshman Alec Peters (Washington, Ill./Washington), the Valparaiso men’s basketball team defeated UIC 73-63 Tuesday evening at the ARC in the first round of the 2014 Horizon League Championship. With the victory, the fourth-seeded Crusaders advance to Green Bay to face fifth-seeded Milwaukee Friday evening at 8:30 p.m.
Peters was nearly perfect from the field on the night, with a missed 3-pointer in the first half serving as the only blemish on a 10-of-11 performance from the floor for the freshman. Peters also knocked down seven free throws as well to finish with 29 points, just one shy of his career high, while also pulling down a team-high eight rebounds. The rookie spread the scoring between the two periods, pouring in 14 first-half points before a 15-point effort in the second half.
A layup from senior Lavonte Dority (Chicago, Ill./Foreman [USF]) off a steal with 9:29 to play pushed the Crusader lead back into double figures, as Valpo led 58-48. But little did anybody know that would be the Crusaders’ final field goal of the night. UIC reeled off an 8-1 run over the next three minutes, capped by a Jordan Harks layup which cut the lead to 59-56, the first time the game had been within one possession since before the midway point of the first half.
Valpo would hold the Flames to just two points over the next four minutes, however, allowing the Crusaders to extend their lead from the foul line. Peters and Dority both went 3-of-4 from the charity stripe over that stretch, the latter pushing the lead back up to seven points at 65-58 with 5:06 to play.
Neither team would score for over two minutes, until a pair of free throws by the Flames with 2:30 to play made it 65-60. The Crusaders couldn’t knock down a triple at the end of the shot clock on their next offensive possession, but forced a turnover on UIC’s end. Then, on a missed jumper, it was the smallest player on the court, freshman Lexus Williams (Chicago, Ill./Marist), who came up with an offensive rebound and was fouled with 55 seconds to play. Williams would knock down both and UIC would get no closer than six points the rest of the way, as the Crusaders went 8-of-10 from the foul line in the final minute.
Peters keyed the Crusaders’ big first-half run, as Valpo extended a 15-13 lead into a 29-17 advantage with 7:13 to play in the opening period. Peters scored 11 of the Crusaders’ 14 points during the run, including a pair of old-fashioned 3-point plays, while sophomore Keith Carter (Maywood, Ill./Proviso East [Saint Louis]) knocked down a big step-back 3-pointer during the run as well.
Valpo was able to push its lead up to as many as 15 points a couple times late in the first half, but UIC scored on each of its final two possessions to cut the Crusaders’ edge to 39-28 at the half. The advantage hovered around the 10-point mark for the first 10 minutes of the second half, with Peters pushing it up to 14 points at 54-40 with 13:08 to go before a six-point spurt from the Flames helped set the stage for the final 10 minutes of play.
Dority was the only Crusader to join Peters in double figures, ending the night with 12 points. Freshman Jubril Adekoya (Tinley Park, Ill./Andrew) posted a well-rounded line with six points, six rebounds and four assists as well. Dority led the way with three steals for Valpo, while junior Vashil Fernandez (Kingston, Jamaica/Princeton Day [Md.] Academy) tallied three of the Crusaders’ six blocked shots.
Marc Brown led UIC (6-25) with 16 points, one of four Flames in double figures. Jordan Harks ended with 14 points and nine rebounds, while Valpo limited UIC leading scorer Kelsey Barlow to just 2-of-15 shooting from the field in an 11-point, nine-rebound effort.
Valparaiso (18-14) advances to the second round of the league tournament in Green Bay on Friday evening, where the Crusaders will face Milwaukee at 8:30 p.m. Valpo won both games with the Panthers during the regular season. As always, all the action can be seen online on the Horizon League Network and heard on the Valpo Sports Radio Network, with links for live audio and video, as well as live stats, available through ValpoAthletics.com.