Four years to the day after clinching its first Horizon League regular season title, the Valparaiso University men’s basketball team made it four regular season championships in five seasons at the ARC Sunday afternoon as the Crusaders led start to finish in a 90-74 victory over Detroit on Senior Day.
Prior to the game, Valpo honored its four senior players – Keith Carter (Maywood, Ill./Proviso East [Saint Louis]), Vashil Fernandez (Kingston, Jamaica/Princeton Day [Md.] Academy), E. Victor Nickerson (Atlanta, Ga./Norcross [Charlotte]) and Darien Walker (Chicago, Ill./Simeon [John A. Logan/Arizona Western]). Then following the win – which improved the Crusaders’ record to 23-2 in the last 25 Senior Days – the quartet of seniors addressed the crowd of 4,151 at the ARC.
Before the senior speeches, however, was an important trophy presentation, as athletics director Mark LaBarbera presented the Crusaders with the trophy celebrating this season’s Horizon League regular season championship. For Valpo and head coach Bryce Drew, it marked the fourth time in the last five seasons that the Crusaders have earned the crown – all of which have been outright championships. It is the 16th regular season title overall in program history, 13 of which have come since 1995. The win also guarantees Valpo the top overall seed for the upcoming Horizon League Championship and the corresponding double bye.
Leading the way to Sunday’s title-clinching win, as he did in the Crusaders’ first victory of the season over the Titans, was junior Alec Peters (Washington, Ill./Washington). Peters now has a pair of 30-point performances this year, both of which have come against Detroit, as he ended Sunday’s win with 32 points. The junior needed just 12 field goal attempts to finish with his game-high 32, as Peters went 7-of-12 from the field, including 5-of-8 from 3-point range.
With his second 3-pointer of the game, which came with 9:40 to go in the first half, Peters moved into Valpo’s all-time top-10 in scoring and currently sits in 10th place with 1,498 career points. He got to the foul line 15 times on Sunday as well, making a career-high 13 free throws, and also pulled down 11 rebounds for his 11th double-double of the season.
Two other Crusaders joined Peters in double figures on Sunday. Junior Shane Hammink (Millingen aan de Rijn, Netherlands/Oakley College [LSU]) hit all three of his 3-point attempts en route to a 14-point performance. Meanwhile, Carter continued his stellar performance at the point, finishing with 14 points, eight assists and five steals – coming up two points shy of his season high in scoring, one assist shy of his career high in that category and matching a career best with his five steals.
The balance in the Crusader attack was again evident, as even with Peters dropping 32, Valpo still had seven different players score at least six points. Junior Jubril Adekoya (Tinley Park, Ill./Andrew) finished with nine points on 4-of-6 shooting, while Fernandez tallied eight points – including a 4-for-4 performance at the foul line – nine rebounds and five blocked shots. Darien Walker added seven points in his first start of the Horizon League season, while Tevonn Walker (Montreal, Quebec/Vanier College) chipped in six off the bench as well.
The starting lineup, which consisted of the four seniors and Peters for the first time this season, scored the first six points of the game and led 12-7 at the first media timeout as the Crusaders never trailed. Hammink threw down a monster two-handed slam on the fast break with 3:43 to play in the first half to push the lead to double figures for the first time, and then hit a 3-pointer in the waning seconds of the period to make it 48-37 Valpo at the half. Detroit’s Anton Wilson hit a 75-foot one-handed heave just after Hammink’s triple, but it was adjudged to have come after the clock hit 0.0 after replay review.
When Hammink scored the first six points of the second half to make it 54-37 Crusaders, it looked like they would run away with the game, but Detroit had a push remaining. The Titans closed within eight points with 13:40 to play and were still within 10 with 9:31 left, but Peters put together a personal 11-0 run to push the lead to 21 points.
Detroit had one final spurt, cutting Valpo’s advantage to 77-66 with 4:41 to play, but again a Peters basket stopped the run. Then the dagger came from the hands of Carter with 1:41 remaining, as the senior drilled a corner 3-pointer just seconds after Adekoya grabbed an offensive rebound. With the game in hand, head coach Bryce Drew was able to sub out all four seniors one final time in the closing seconds to a rousing ovation from the home supporters.
Detroit (15-13, 9-7 Horizon) was led by 28 points on 10-of-17 shooting from Paris Bass, while Carlton Brundidge scored 19 and Anton Wilson 17. The Titans out-shot Valpo, hitting 52.1% from the floor and 9-of-17 from 3-point range, but were just 15-of-27 from the foul line. The Crusaders owned a 39-24 advantage on the boards and grabbed 15 offensive rebounds as well.
Valparaiso (24-5, 14-2 Horizon) closes out the regular season next weekend on the road in Wisconsin, starting with a Friday night game at Milwaukee. The game has been set for a 6 p.m. tip and will be broadcast live on ESPN2. As always, it can be heard on WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso) as well, with links for the live audio, video and stats available at ValpoAthletics.com.