The Valparaiso University men’s basketball team, behind a combined 31 second-half points from junior Alec Peters (Washington, Ill./Washington) and senior E. Victor Nickerson (Atlanta, Ga./Norcross [Charlotte]), nearly erased the entirety of an 11-point second-half deficit at Ball State Saturday afternoon, but the Crusaders would come up one shot short, as a last-second 3-point attempt was off the mark to give the Cardinals a 69-66 win.
Trailing by two out of the final media timeout, the Crusaders surrendered a pair of free throws to Ball State on each of its next two possessions, but countered with a layup by senior Darien Walker (Chicago, Ill./Simeon [John A. Logan/Arizona Western]) and a 3-pointer by Peters – his fifth of the game – to make it a 64-63 game. The Cardinals’ Trey Moses hit a jumper in the lane with the shot clock running down on the Cardinals’ next trip, and the teams then exchanged empty possessions.
Nickerson split a pair of free throws on the offensive end, but again Moses came up with a basket late in the shot clock for BSU to push its lead to 68-64. Out of a timeout with 17 seconds left, Nickerson drove and got fouled within five seconds, hitting both to again make it a two-point game. The Cardinals split a pair of free throws two seconds later to give Valpo one last opportunity to tie, but in looking for Peters, the junior was double-teamed and a final effort from well beyond the arc by senior Keith Carter (Maywood, Ill./Proviso East [Saint Louis]) was off the mark.
Playing without injured sophomore Tevonn Walker (Montreal, Quebec/Vanier College), the Crusaders found themselves behind the eight-ball from the get go Saturday, leading for just 49 seconds early on in the first half before the Cardinals scored 11 straight to take control. BSU’s Bo Calhoun, who entered the game with just one 3-pointer on the year, hit three triples in the first seven minutes as Ball State led by double figures less than 10 minutes into the game.
The Cardinals led by as many as 12 points in the opening half on multiple occasions, but Valpo locked down defensively late in the half, keeping Ball State off the board for the final 3:34 of the period. A mini-spurt gave the Crusaders some momentum into halftime, as Valpo scored the final six points of the half – two each from Darien Walker, Carter and Peters – to cut the deficit to 29-23 at the intermission.
Nickerson came out like a house on fire early in the second half, single-handedly erasing the deficit with eight points on four straight possessions to give Valpo a short-lived 31-29 lead with 17:59 to play. Back-to-back 3-pointers on the Cardinals’ next two trips returned the lead to BSU, and the two squads would be tied twice over the next couple minutes.
With the score 37-37 and 14:20 to play, the Cardinals went on a 16-5 run over the next five and a half minutes to go ahead 53-42 at the 8:59 mark. Valpo scored the next four to move to within seven points, and then Nickerson and Peters combined for the next 12 points heading into the final media timeout to cut the deficit down to 60-58 at the three-minute mark.
Peters scored in double figures in both halves as he posted a season-high and game-best 28 points, doing so on 10-of-18 shooting from the floor, including 5-of-9 from 3-point range. Nickerson joined him in double digits, scoring all 16 of his points in the second half, as he shot 4-of-5 from the field and 7-of-10 from the foul line in the final 20 minutes. The Crusaders shot just 40.4% (23-of-57) overall and 35% (7-of-20) from 3-point range for the game, and were just 61.9% (13-of-21) from the foul line, missing the front end of three 1-and-1’s.
Calhoun led Ball State (5-2) with 15 points, while Franko House added 14 points and Jeremiah Davis scored 10 off the bench. The Cardinals finished the game hitting at a 46% (23-of-50) clip from the field. House paced BSU on the boards with eight rebounds.
Valparaiso (6-2) returns home next Thursday night to host Belmont at the ARC at 7 p.m. The game can be seen live on ESPN3.com and heard live on WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso), with links for the live video, audio and stats available via ValpoAthletics.com.