The Valparaiso University men’s basketball team came out on top in a hard-fought battle against fellow mid-major power Belmont Thursday evening at the ARC, 61-57.
The Crusaders struggled offensively for much of the game, finishing the night shooting just 35.4% from the field and just 6-of-25 from beyond the 3-point line. But as they’ve done so many times over the past two years, the defense would lead the way to victory for the Crusaders, as Valpo limited Belmont to just 57 points – 30 points below its average entering the game. The Bruins also hit just seven 3-pointers on 28% shooting from deep after coming into the night averaging 11 triples per game on 37% shooting.
Trailing by four points at 52-48 with 5:18 to play following a 3-pointer by Craig Bradshaw, the Crusaders went on a 7-0 spurt to take the lead for good. A pair of free throws from junior Alec Peters (Washington, Ill./Washington) brought the Crusaders within two, and two possessions later, senior E. Victor Nickerson (Atlanta, Ga./Norcross [Charlotte]) connected on a triple with the shot clock winding down to return the lead to Valpo.
On the next trip, senior Keith Carter (Maywood, Ill./Proviso East [Saint Louis]) drove for a layup late in the shot clock to make it 55-52 Crusaders at the 3:22 mark. But following the media timeout, Belmont’s Taylor Barnette hit a 3-pointer to tie things up at 55 apiece inside of three minutes to play.
Offensive rebounds would key the Crusaders’ win, leading to points on each of the next two possessions. First, Nickerson followed his own missed jumper – leaping in the lane and putting it right back up for a putback basket with 2:25 to play. Then, following a Belmont miss, sophomore David Skara (Zadar, Croatia/Ekonosmka Skola Zadar) came up huge, coming down with the board from a pair of misses on the offensive end for Valpo. Off the second, Skara went back up inside, finishing the layup while being fouled for a 3-point play to make it 60-55 Crusaders with 1:16 remaining.
A pair of free throws from the Bruins cut the lead to three points at the one-minute mark, but after missing a shot late in the shot clock, Carter had the presence of mind to take a charge as Belmont attempted to race the rebound up the floor, returning possession to the Crusaders with 28 seconds to play. Peters would split a pair of free throws a couple seconds later to cap the scoring, as Belmont missed a pair of field goal attempts in the final 20 seconds.
The first half was a one-possession game for the most part, as the largest lead either squad enjoyed was a five-point edge. Belmont led by a point with less than two minutes to play in the period, but a deep jumper from Skara and a 3-pointer by junior Shane Hammink (Millingen aan de Rijn, Netherlands/Oakley College [LSU]) gave Valpo a 30-26 edge at halftime. After a quick start both ways to the second half, which saw 16 combined points scored in less than four minutes, both squads suffered through scoring droughts of over five minutes. Valpo was unable to take advantage of Belmont’s, however, scoring just four points. The Bruins scored seven during the Crusaders’ drought, taking the lead at the 9:53 mark – a lead they would maintain until under five minutes to go.
Peters led all players Thursday with 17 points despite his struggles from the field, as the junior hit 7-of-8 from the foul line. Carter finished with 14 points as well, 12 of which came in the first half, while Nickerson added nine points. Senior Vashil Fernandez (Kingston, Jamaica/Princeton Day [Md.] Academy) grabbed eight rebounds to tie for game-high honors.
Four Belmont (5-4) players finished in double figures, but the Crusaders held three of the four to less than their season average. Bradshaw paced the Bruins with 12 points, while Evan Bradds chipped in 11 points. Valpo forced 19 Belmont turnovers while committing just 10 miscues of its own.
Valparaiso (7-2) returns to action next Wednesday, as the Crusaders make the trip to Terre Haute to face Indiana State. Tipoff is slated for 6 p.m. CT, and all the action can be seen live on ESPN3.com and heard on WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso). As always, links for the live video, audio and stats will be available via ValpoAthletics.com.