The Valparaiso men’s basketball team earned its first win in Horizon League play on Sunday afternoon at the ARC, locking down on defense over the final eight minutes and using one of its top rebounding performances in recent history to take down Youngstown State, 79-64.
A layup by YSU’s Larry Johnson cut the Crusaders’ lead to 61-58 with 8:13 to play, but following that basket, Valpo locked down. The Penguins would not hit another field goal for the remainder of the game, going 0-of-10 from the field and committing four turnovers over the last eight minutes of the contest. YSU’s final six points all came from the free throw line.
Valpo would score just two field goals in that same stretch, but they came back-to-back at a key juncture, helping the Crusaders pull away. The Crusaders’ lead, which had been as much as ten points in the second half, was just 64-60 as the clock ticked under five minutes. But, in the theme of the day, Valpo made a second chance count, as off a miss, sophomore Alec Peters (Washington, Ill./Washington) grabbed the rebound in traffic, went back up and scored while fouled. Peters completed the old-fashioned 3-point play to push the lead to seven points.
Then, after a YSU miss on the other end, junior Keith Carter (Maywood, Ill./Proviso East [Saint Louis]) grabbed the rebound – completing his first career double-double – and initiated a fast break, capping off the push with a lob to junior E. Victor Nickerson (Atlanta, Ga./Norcross [Charlotte]) for the slam to make it 69-60 Crusaders with 4:20 to play. Valpo made sure that the Penguins would be unable to get any closer than seven points the rest of the way, going 10-of-12 from the foul line following the final media timeout to secure the win.
It was a struggle for the Crusaders shooting the ball on Sunday, as Valpo finished the game just 27-of-77 (35.1%) from the floor and hit just 5-of-24 from 3-point range. But the Crusaders more than made up for it on the glass, crashing the boards and grabbing 27 offensive rebounds – exactly half of their available misses, and the most offensive rebounds by a Valpo team in at least 25 years. Those offensive rebounds were converted into 28 second-chance points, as Valpo out-rebounded Youngstown State 58-38 overall and out-scored the Penguins in the paint, 40-20.
Despite the shooting woes, the Crusaders never trailed in the win, as Peters scored 10 points in the game’s first four minutes to stake Valpo to an early lead. A 12-5 spurt midway through the first half, featuring baskets from five different Crusaders, pushed the advantage to double figures at 26-16 with 10:24 to play in the half. YSU replied with an 11-2 run over the next six minutes to close within one point, but Carter scored eight points over a stretch of 1:23 to send the lead back to eight points. The Crusaders eventually took a 40-35 lead into the halftime break.
Valpo scored 10 of the first 15 points out of the halftime break to again make it a double-digit lead at 50-40 with 16:04 to play, with Carter and senior Vashil Fernandez (Kingston, Jamaica/Princeton Day [Md.] Academy) both contributing two baskets during that span. The Penguins went on a 9-2 spurt over the next three minutes, however, to cut the lead back down to single figures, where it remained until the game’s late stages.
Peters paced Valpo with 18 points, while the sophomore added nine rebounds and three assists. Carter scored 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting, including three 3-pointers, and grabbed 10 rebounds for his first career double-double. The junior posted four assists and did not commit a turnover for the second time in the last three games, as the Crusaders finished with just five total team turnovers.
Junior Darien Walker (Chicago, Ill./Simeon [John A. Logan/Arizona Western]) chipped in 12 points - going 7-of-8 from the foul line in the closing minutes - grabbed eight rebounds, handed out three assists and blocked a pair of shots. Fernandez paced all players on the boards, pulling down 13 rebounds, just one off his career best. Eight of Fernandez’s boards came on the offensive glass, while he also posted eight points and three blocked shots.
Youngstown State (9-8, 0-2 Horizon) was led by 13 points apiece from DJ Cole and Bobby Hain, as four Penguin starters finished in double figures. YSU shot just 37.3% for the game, and after hitting 6-of-9 3-point attempts in the first half, the Penguins were just 2-of-9 from the deep in the final 20 minutes.
Valparaiso (14-3, 1-1 Horizon) continues its three-game homestand Thursday evening at 7:05 p.m. at the ARC against UIC. As always, the game can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Network and seen live on the Horizon League Network via ESPN3.com. Links for the live audio and video, as well as live stats, will be available at ValpoAthletics.
Tickets are still available as well for the matchup against the Flames, featuring a performance of The Star-Spangled Banner pregame by world-famous national anthem singer Jim Cornelison. For tickets, call 1-877-MY-VU-TIX or visit ValpoAthletics.com/tickets.