The Valparaiso University men’s basketball team locked down defensively in the first half and then got key baskets when needed in the second half, as the Crusaders went on the road and downed Indiana State Wednesday night in Terre Haute, 69-63.
Valpo jumped out to a 31-21 halftime lead on Tuesday, thanks to solid shooting from junior Alec Peters (Washington, Ill./Washington) and stifling defense. Peters was nearly perfect from the floor in the first 20 minutes, hitting all three of his 3-point attempts in going 4-of-5 from the field for 11 points.
Meanwhile, Indiana State had one early run before the Crusaders held the Sycamores down. ISU hit shots on four straight possessions as part of a 10-0 run early in the half to go ahead 13-11 at the 12:52 mark.
But the Crusaders switched to a zone defense and that would be the difference, as Indiana State went scoreless for the next 6:28 and didn’t hit another shot from the field for over 11 minutes. Valpo used the defense to go ahead by as many as 12 in the first half before heading into the locker room up 10. The Sycamores were just 5-of-27 from the field in the first half, including just 2-of-11 from 3-point range.
It would take the Sycamores less than eight minutes to erase Valpo’s lead in the second half, however. Indiana State hit eight of its first 11 shots from the field, capped by a 3-pointer from Matt Van Sycoc with 12:13 to play which gave the Sycamores a 42-41 lead and forced a Crusader timeout.
Right out of the timeout, the Crusaders drew up a play for senior E. Victor Nickerson (Atlanta, Ga./Norcross [Charlotte]) and Nickerson took full advantage, driving right to the rim and finishing to return the lead to Valpo. Valpo would score its next five points at the foul line to maintain a narrow lead before, with the shot clock winding down, Nickerson connected on a deep 3-pointer to make it 51-47 Crusaders with 7:51 to play.
The next couple of big plays came courtesy of sophomore David Skara (Zadar, Croatia/Ekonomska Skola Zadar). First, Skara drove the left side and banked in a left-handed leaner from outside the lane at the 6:41 mark to give the Crusaders a six-point lead. Then, with the lead five points and the clock inside of five minutes, senior Keith Carter (Maywood, Ill./Proviso East [Saint Louis]) drove and kicked out to a wide-open Skara on the left wing, where the sophomore drilled the 3-pointer to make it 59-51 with 4:47 to play.
The Crusaders would be held scoreless for the next three minutes, but Valpo surrendered just two baskets over that same stretch to maintain a three-point lead. Peters came up with a huge offensive rebound off a Valpo miss, and as the clock ticked under two minutes, hit a cutting Jubril Adekoya (Tinley Park, Ill./Andrew), who got fouled and hit two free throws to make it 61-56.
A pair of free throws by Nickerson with 44 seconds to play pushed the lead to seven points, but Indiana State had one final push, closing to within 64-61 with 27 seconds left on a putback. But following the Sycamores’ basket, Valpo’s inbounds went to Peters, who calmly hit both his free throws. Indiana State would get no closer than four points the rest of the way.
Peters and Nickerson tied for team-high honors with 15 points apiece, with all of Nickerson’s points coming after halftime. Peters pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds as well to lead all players. Four Crusaders ended the night in double figures, as Skara and Darien Walker (Chicago, Ill./Simeon [John A. Logan/Arizona Western]) chipped in 12 points each.
Van Sycor led Indiana State (3-5) with a game-high 20 points, hitting five 3-pointers. Brenton Scott finished with 16 points as well, but no other Sycamore finished with more than six points.
Valparaiso (8-2) has a quick turnaround for another road game, making the short trip across the Indiana/Illinois border to play at Chicago State Friday night at 7 p.m. Links for live video, audio and stats will be available via ValpoAthletics.com.