The Valparaiso University men’s basketball team became the first team to advance to the quarterfinals of the 2016 postseason NIT on Thursday evening, as the Crusaders took down ACC foe Florida State in front of a packed house at the ARC by an 81-69 final. With the win, the top-seeded Crusaders will host a quarterfinal game at the ARC on Tuesday night, March 22, at a time to be determined, with a trip to Madison Square Garden on the line.
The win was the Crusaders’ second of this postseason, matching the 1998 team – which won two games in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship, including a second-round win in the only other prior meeting with Florida State – and the 1962 and 1967 squads – which won two games apiece in the NCAA College Division Championships. In addition, with Thursday’s victory, Valpo became the first Horizon League team since the 2000-01 Detroit squad to advance to at least the quarterfinals of the NIT
The victory over the Seminoles was Valpo’s 28th win of the season, matching the program record set just last year. 16 of the Crusaders’ 28 wins this season have come at the ARC, tying the 2012-13 squad for the most home wins in Crusader men’s basketball history.
As Valpo did Tuesday in its NIT opener against Texas Southern, the Crusaders jumped on Florida State right from the get-go on Thursday night, never trailing in the win. Valpo took the lead just 22 seconds into the game on a 3-pointer from junior Alec Peters (Washington, Ill./Washington) and extended its early advantage to 7-0. Florida State’s first basket didn’t come until the 14:47 mark, as the Seminoles started 0-for-5 from the floor with three early turnovers.
FSU would score six straight points to cut the lead to one, but Valpo would never relinquish the advantage. The lead stayed steady right around five points for much of the opening half, with FSU making a few pushes from the eight-minute mark to the five-minute mark as it cut the lead to just one possession. But on every occasion, Valpo responded – twice with a pair of inside baskets from Peters, then a 3-point play by Shane Hammink (Millingen aan de Rijn, Netherlands/Oakley College [LSU]) and finally a put-back on an offensive rebound by Peters.
Xavier Rathan-Mayes knocked down a triple with 2:57 to play in the first half, cutting Valpo’s lead to four points at 29-25, but the Crusaders would close the half on a 10-4 spurt to carry a 39-29 lead into the locker room. Junior Jubril Adekoya (Tinley Park, Ill./Andrew) got the run started with a triple, and it was capped by a driving layup from senior Darien Walker (Chicago, Ill./Simeon [John A. Logan/Arizona Western) on the Crusaders’ final possession of the half.
Out of the halftime break, it was senior Keith Carter (Maywood, Ill./Proviso East [Saint Louis]) making plays for the Crusaders. Carter assisted on a pair of early triples by Peters and Hammink, and then after five straight points from the Seminoles, threw a perfect inbounds lob to senior Vashil Fernandez (Kingston, Jamaica/Princeton Day [Md.] Academy) for the slam. Carter then took care of business himself on Valpo’s next trip, driving for a 3-point play to give Valpo a 50-38 lead with 15:52 to play.
A little over a minute later, the lead stood at 11 points before FSU scored on three possessions in a four-trip stretch to go on an 8-0 spurt and cut the Valpo lead to 51-48. But the Crusaders went to their go-to player to respond, and Peters did just that, finishing inside while being fouled for a 3-point play. Two trips later, with the score 54-50 Crusaders and the clock inside of 11 minutes, another 3-pointer from Adekoya sparked a 9-1 Valpo spurt. Senior E. Victor Nickerson (Atlanta, Ga./Norcross [Charlotte]) scored the final six points of the run which pushed the advantage out to 12 points.
Twice in the last few minutes, FSU would close to within seven points, but Valpo would let the Seminoles get no closer. At the 7:15 mark, a 3-point play from Rathan-Mayes cut the lead to 65-58, but again Peters worked inside for a layup.
Then, after a fast-break jumper by Malik Beasley 90 seconds later made it a 67-60 ballgame, the Crusaders came down and Carter tossed a lob up for Hammink, who slammed it home. The slam jam opened another quick 8-0 spurt for Valpo, as Carter came up with a steal on the next defensive trip and fed Adekoya with a perfect bounce pass on the break for a 3-point play. Then, with less than four minutes to go, the Crusaders worked the shot clock before Hammink let fly with what would be a dagger 3-pointer, making it 75-60 with 3:43 to play.
Peters led Valpo on Thursday night with 26 points on one of his typical efficient nights, going 9-of-14 from the floor and 6-of-7 from the foul line. The junior now has scored 629 points on the year, surpassing head coach Bryce Drew’s junior and senior years on the single-season scoring charts and moving into third in a single year in Crusader history. On the career charts, Peters now has 1,632 points, passing Raitis Grafs on Thursday for fifth in Valpo history all-time. Peters also grabbed nine rebounds in the victory, moving into seventh on the single-season chart (286) and 10th on the career chart (677).
Three other Crusaders joined Peters in double figures on Thursday in the win. Hammink came up just one point shy of his season high, finishing with 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the floor and 4-of-5 from the foul line. Carter ended the night with 13 points, five rebounds and six assists, while Adekoya came off the bench to post 11 points, five rebounds and five assists in 26 minutes of action.
The Crusaders shot 47.3% for the game, including 7-of-16 from behind the 3-point line. Valpo also was extremely sharp at the foul line, going 22-of-27 (81.5%) as a team. The Crusaders finished with 19 assists on 26 made field goals and out-rebounded the Seminoles, 36-32.
Florida State (20-14) was led by 19 points from Rathan-Mayes. Beasley and Dwayne Bacon both scored 14 in the losing effort, with the latter adding six rebounds, four assists and three steals as well. FSU shot 40.7% from the floor and was just 3-of-15 from 3-point range.
Valparaiso (28-6) will await Tuesday night’s opponent – the winner of Sunday’s game between Georgia and Saint Mary’s – as well as the game time and television channel. No matter when or who the Crusaders play, you can hear it live on WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso), as well as online at ValpoAthletics.com, which will also have links for live video and stats.