The Valparaiso University men’s basketball team showcased its defensive strength on Friday evening in front of a national television audience on ESPN2 and complemented it with a career-best performance offensively from sophomore Tevonn Walker (Montreal, Quebec/Vanier College) as the Crusaders rolled to an 84-67 victory over Oakland at the O’Rena in Horizon League play.
Friday’s matchup pitted one of the nation’s top defenses in Valpo against a top-10 scoring offense in Oakland, and it was the Crusaders who came out the better, limiting Oakland to just 67 points on 72 possessions. Valpo held the Golden Grizzlies to just 34.3% shooting from the floor and just eight 3-pointers, while only sending Oakland to the foul line 18 times as well. The Crusaders got the job done starting with Oakland star Kay Felder, as starting with the defensive effort of Keith Carter (Maywood, Ill./Proviso East [Saint Louis]), Valpo limited Felder to 20 points on 8-of-28 shooting.
Meanwhile, Valpo’s offense cracked the 80-point mark for the fourth time this season, paced by the play of Walker. The sophomore, who had scored his previous career high at Oakland last year with 22 points, added a pair to that mark on Friday as he poured in 24 points. Walker did it from downtown, doubling his previous career best of three made triples by going 6-of-8 from 3-point range in the winning effort.
Walker had plenty of help offensively though, as the typical Crusader balance shone through, with six different players scoring at least eight points. Junior Alec Peters (Washington, Ill./Washington) did most of his work from inside on Friday night, finishing with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting inside the arc. Starters Carter, David Skara (Zadar, Croatia/Ekonomska Skola Zadar) and Vashil Fernandez (Kingston, Jamaica/Princeton Day [Md.] Academy) all ended with nine points, while senior Darien Walker (Chicago, Ill./Simeon [John A. Logan/Arizona Western]) added eight points off the bench.
It all added up to an offensive effort which saw the Crusaders shoot 49.1% from the floor and 9-of-20 from the 3-point line. Valpo posted 18 assists on its 28 baskets, led by six apiece from Carter and Skara. The Crusaders controlled the inside play, out-scoring Oakland in the paint by a 32-18 margin and out-rebounding the Golden Grizzlies, 49-31. Fernandez led all players with 12 rebounds, while Peters posted 11 to finish with a double-double.
The first half of the game belied the typical hard-fought nature of the Valpo-Oakland rivalry, as the two teams traded the lead seven times and saw nine lead changes. A 7-0 run, capped by a Tevonn Walker 3-pointer, erased a two-point deficit and gave the Crusaders a five-point lead late in the half, but Felder would hit a tough pull-up jumper on the final possession of the period to cut Valpo’s halftime edge to 37-34.
Oakland scored the first basket of the second half to cut the lead to one and was still within a single point at 39-38 with 18:16 to play, but Valpo scored on four of its next five trips to take control. Tevonn Walker started it off with a triple, and two possessions later, Peters canned a deep jumper. Carter drove the lane unabated for an easy layup the next time done, and Walker closed the 10-0 run with another triple to make it 49-38 with 15:20 to play.
Oakland closed the lead to six points twice a couple minutes later, the second on a baseline fadeaway by Nick Daniels with 12:14 to go to make it 53-47 Valpo. But following Daniels’ basket, the Crusaders held the Golden Grizzlies to just one field goal over the next eight minutes. The lead reached double figures again on a Carter feed to Jubril Adekoya (Tinley Park, Ill./Andrew) for a layup with the shot clock winding down and 9:51 to play, pushing the advantage to 60-50.
From there, the Crusaders just held Oakland at bay. Tevonn Walker’s sixth triple of the night made it 65-52 at the 5:44 mark, and Oakland would get no closer than 11 points the rest of the way. With under 2:30 to play, the Golden Grizzlies started to foul with Valpo just in the 1-and-1, but first Carter and then Skara twice stepped up and hit both ends of the bonus to keep the lead from falling into single digits.
Four Oakland (9-7, 1-2 Horizon) players finished in double figures, as Jalen Hayes (13 points), Max Hooper (12) and Sherron Dorsey-Walker (11) joined Felder. Felder, the nation’s leader in assists entering the game averaging over nine per contest, finished with six helpers, while Hayes and Martez Walker tied for team-high honors with six rebounds.
Valparaiso (12-3, 2-0 Horizon) takes on one of the other remaining Horizon League unbeatens on Sunday as the Crusaders close the Michigan road swing at Detroit, which defeated UIC Friday evening. The game is slated for a noon CT tipoff and can be seen live nationwide on American Sports Network affiliates, including in the Valpo area on Comcast SportsNet Chicago. As always, the game can be heard live on WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso) as well. Links for the live video, audio and stats will be available via ValpoAthletics.com.