The Valparaiso men’s basketball team saw its first chance to claim the outright Horizon League regular season title slip by the wayside Wednesday evening in Detroit, Mich., as the Titans’ Juwan Howard Jr. hit three free throws with 1.3 seconds to play to send the Crusaders to a 63-60 defeat.
Valpo struggled offensively all game long, shooting just 34.8% (16-of-46) from the field – the Crusaders’ lowest percentage since their loss at Green Bay- and scoring just 10 points in the paint versus 30 points in the paint for Detroit. The Crusaders did hit 8-of-20 3-point attempts and were 20-of-24 from the free throw line to give themselves a shot.
The game came down to the final seconds tied at 60 after both teams scored second-chance baskets within the final two minutes. Detroit got a 3-pointer from the corner from Anton Wilson with 1:50 to play to put the Titans ahead 60-58, but on the other end, junior Darien Walker (Chicago, Ill./Simeon [John A. Logan/Arizona Western]) grabbed a 3-pointer miss and laid it up and in, tying the game at 60-60 with 1:25 to go.
The Crusaders put together a strong defensive possession on the next trip, forcing a miss by Howard with under a minute to play that sophomore Alec Peters (Washington, Ill./Washington) secured. On the offensive end, Valpo’s initial set was thwarted, pushing the Crusaders into a secondary play that resulted in a miss with 20 seconds to go. Following a pair of timeouts, the Titans put the ball into Howard’s hands, and he got off a shot with 1.3 seconds left on which the Crusaders were whistled for a foul. Howard hit all three from the stripe for the final margin, as Valpo’s inbounds heave over halfcourt was fumbled out of bounds.
Walker kept the Crusaders in the lead for much of the first half, as the junior enjoyed a 14-point performance in the opening 20 minutes. Valpo led for most of the period and extended its lead to a maximum of seven points on a fast-break 3-pointer from Peters with 2:56 left in the half. But those would be the Crusaders’ final point of the first half, as Valpo missed its final four shots, and Detroit’s Jaleel Hogan scored six straight to cut the Crusader lead to 33-32 at the break.
The Crusaders pushed their lead to four points a couple times early in the second half, but could not extend past that mark, and Detroit rallied, taking a 47-45 lead with 13:19 to play. Valpo would limit Detroit to just two points over the next six minutes, but wasn’t able to take advantage, scoring just seven points itself over the same stretch. Back-to-back baskets from the Titans put them back ahead 53-52 at the 6:25 mark, but Peters answered with another triple to return the lead to Valpo. The Crusaders again extended their lead to four points, but Detroit rallied to within 58-57 on a Brandon Kearney jumper, setting up the final stages.
Walker led all players with 21 points on Wednesday, hitting all six of his free throw attempts and three 3-pointers. Peters added 13 points, but was limited to just 3-of-11 shooting from the field. The sophomore also grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds for his fourth double-double in the last six games. No other Crusader finished with better than six points.
Kearney paced Detroit (14-17, 7-9 Horizon) with 14 points on Senior Night for the Titans, going 5-of-8 from the field. Hogan added 10 points off the bench, while the Crusaders limited Howard to just eight points on 2-of-10 shooting.
Despite the loss, Valparaiso (25-5, 12-3 Horizon) still has one more shot to claim the outright league title, as the Crusaders conclude the regular season Friday night at Cleveland State. The game will be broadcast live nationwide on ESPNU with a 9 p.m. CT tipoff. As always, all the action can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Network, and links for live coverage are available at ValpoAthletics.com.