A mix of the old and the new led the Valparaiso men’s basketball team to a 90-76 victory over East Tennessee State in the season opener Friday night at the ARC.
The Crusaders were paced by the effort from sophomore Alec Peters (Washington, Ill./Washington) on Friday evening, as the preseason First Team All-League selection lived up to the billing against the Buccaneers. Peters went 9-of-15 from the floor, including 4-of-6 from downtown, to tie for game-high honors with 27 points. The sophomore added six rebounds as well.
Meanwhile, of Valpo’s four double-figure scorers, the other three are all newcomers to the program this season. Junior Darien Walker (Chicago, Ill./Simeon [John A. Logan/Arizona Western]) showed his performance in the Crusaders’ exhibition was no fluke, pouring in 20 points – including five 3-pointers – and ripping down a game-best eight rebounds. Freshman Tevonn Walker (Montreal, Quebec/Vanier College) was a perfect 8-of-8 from the foul line en route to 16 points, while fellow rookie David Skara (Zadar, Croatia/Ekonomska Skola Zadar) posted 11 points and five rebounds in just 15 minutes off the bench.
A high-scoring game early on, the lead swung back and forth until a triple by Darien Walker with 6:38 to go in the opening period gave the Crusaders the lead for good. It was still only a one-point Valpo advantage at 35-34 with 2:39 to play in the half, but the Crusaders scored on each of their next three trips to take an eight-point lead into the break. Walker got the mini-spurt going with another 3-pointer – his fourth in the opening period – and Peters followed with a pair of baskets in the paint to make it 42-34 Valpo at the half.
The Crusaders pushed their lead to double figures a couple times early and in the middle stages of the second half, but the Buccaneers would rally, drawing to within 66-64 with 6:45 to play. Peters answered immediately with a triple, however, and then when ETSU pulled to within one possession again two minutes later, it was first Darien Walker and then Peters connecting on 3-pointers on back-to-back trips to make it 78-69 Crusaders. ETSU would get no closer than seven points the rest of the way.
The offense was clicking Friday night for the Crusaders, who won their tenth consecutive home opener and scored their most points in a season opener since the move to Division I. Valpo shot at a 50% clip for the game, including 10-of-18 from beyond the 3-point line, and took advantage of 43 trips to the charity stripe, making 28.
East Tennessee State (0-1) was led by 27 points from Jalen Riley, while A.J. Merriweather (12 points) and Lester Wilson (10 points) both scored in double figures as well. The Crusaders held the Buccaneers’ Rashawn Rembert, their leading scorer last season, to just seven points on 3-of-11 shooting.
Valparaiso (1-0) looks to make it two wins in a row to start the 2014-15 campaign on Sunday evening as the Crusaders take a trip to take on Missouri. The game, slated for a 5 p.m. tipoff, can be seen live on the SEC Network and, as always, heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network. Links for the live audio and stats will be available at ValpoAthletics.com.