The Valparaiso men’s basketball team left no doubt as to what team would leave Nashville with the championship trophy from the inaugural Challenge in Music City, racing out to a 22-point halftime lead over previously unbeaten Portland Sunday afternoon en route to a 70-55 victory to close out a statement weekend.
Leading the way in the winning effort was tournament Most Valuable Player Alec Peters (Washington, Ill./Washington). Peters nearly single-handedly outscored the Pilots in the first half, capping a 15-point period with a 3-pointer from 23 feet as the buzzer sounded. The sophomore finished with a team-high 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting, including four 3-pointers. For the tournament, Peters averaged 18.7 ppg and 5.7 rpg, shot 53.8% from the floor and hit 10-of-17 from long range.
Joining Peters on the All-Tournament Team was junior guard Darien Walker (Chicago, Ill./Simeon [John A. Logan/Arizona Western]), who enjoyed a third consecutive strong game on Sunday. Walker joined Peters in double figures against Portland, finishing with 13 points and five rebounds. On the weekend, Walker shot 54.3% from the floor in averaging 16.7 ppg and connected on 8-of-17 from the 3-point line.
For the second time in as many days, Valpo would trail just briefly, this time coming when Portland converted on its opening possession of the game. The Crusaders responded immediately with a jumper from Peters, starting an early 13-2 Valpo run.
Peters and senior Vashil Fernandez (Kingston, Jamaica/Princeton Day [Md.] Academy) both had putback baskets during the spurt, and Peters then scored five straight to give him nine early points and force a Portland timeout. Two possessions later, a third-chance basket from freshman David Skara (Zadar, Croatia/Ekonomska Skola Zadar) capped the run as the Crusaders led 13-4 7:33 into the ballgame.
The teams traded baskets over the next minute-plus, but with the lead at 15-9, the Crusaders put together another big run to try to put the game out of reach early. Skara started the spurt with a 3-pointer, and freshman Tevonn Walker (Montreal, Quebec/Vanier College) knocked down a mid-range jumper on the next trip.
Two possessions later, Fernandez got his second putback of the game, followed by another Peters triple. The Crusaders forced a miss on Portland’s next trip, and Darien Walker grabbed the defensive board, taking it coast-to-coast himself for a layup to cap a 12-0 Valpo run which made it 27-9 with 7:49 to play in the first half.
The lead pushed up to 20 points for the first time on a 3-pointer from Walker with 4:37 to go in the half, and five late points from junior Keith Carter (Maywood, Ill./Proviso East [Saint Louis]) kept the advantage around that mark. Peters’ last-second 3-pointer sent the Crusaders into the locker room with a 42-20 lead, as Valpo shot 18-of-34 from the field in the first half and made six 3-pointers, while limiting Portland to 7-of-24 shooting and just two triples.
Baskets from Peters and Darien Walker within the first two minutes of the second half pushed the lead out to 26 points to all but eliminate any chance the Pilots had of mounting a comeback. Portland closed to within 57-41 with 8:32 to play, but a steal by sophomore Jubril Adekoya (Tinley Park, Ill./Andrew) led to a fast-break 3-point play from Tevonn Walker, followed by a nice feed from Carter to Tevonn Walker for a shot clock-beating layup to take the lead back up to 21 points. The final margin came following a Pilots’ basket on their final basket, the closest they were over the game’s final 27 minutes.
The Crusaders got a balanced offensive effort on Sunday, as six Valpo players finished with at least seven points. Carter and Tevonn Walker both posted nine points, with the former handing out four assists and the latter grabbing seven rebounds. Junior E. Victor Nickerson (Atlanta, Ga./Norcross [Charlotte]) went 4-for-5 off the bench for eight points in just 11 minutes, while Skara added seven points off the bench as well. Fernandez tallied a game-high ten rebounds and three blocked shots, leading the efforts on the glass as Valpo bested one of the nation’s top rebounding teams, 38-23.
Portland (5-1) was led by a game-high 25 points off the bench from D’Marques Tyson, who knocked down six 3-pointers in the losing effort. No other Pilots player finished with more than eight points, as Portland shot just 40.8% from the field and committed 12 turnovers which the Crusaders converted into 21 points.
Valparaiso (7-1) looks to make it seven straight wins on Wednesday evening when the Crusaders play at Eastern Kentucky in a return game from a BracketBusters contest at the ARC two seasons ago. Tipoff is slated for 6 p.m. CT, and all the action can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network. Links for the live audio and live stats will be available at ValpoAthletics.com, while the game can also be heard on mobile devices by downloading the TuneIn Radio app and searching for WVUR.