Trailing by 10 early in the second half and playing without its top player, the Valparaiso University men’s basketball team refused to throw in the towel Friday night at Wright State as the Crusaders battled back to take the lead for good with eight minutes to play and pulled away late for an 84-74 victory. The win over the Raiders secured at least a share of the Horizon League regular season title for Valpo and gives the team the opportunity to claim the outright title on Sunday.
How It Happened
- Wright State scored on each of its first three possessions to jump out to a quick 8-2 lead, but Valpo responded with the next seven points – including five from junior Lexus Williams (Chicago, Ill./Marist).
- The first few minutes were a harbinger of things to come throughout, as the game featured 12 lead changes and five ties.
- The second of two 3-pointers in just over a minute from freshman Micah Bradford (Bradley, Ill./Bradley-Bourbonnais) gave the Crusaders their largest first half lead at 19-13 with 10:36 left in the period. WSU answered with seven consecutive points as the game settled into a one-possession affair.
- A rare 4-point play by junior Max Joseph (Montreal, Quebec/Vanier College) had the Crusaders ahead 30-27 with 6:10 to go in the half, but Wright State ended the half on a 15-4 run to take a 42-34 lead into the locker room.
- WSU pushed its lead to its apex at 46-36 just over two minutes into the second half, and still led by nine at 53-44 with 14:50 to play following a 3-pointer from Mark Alstork.
- The Crusaders then put together a 9-0 run over the next two minutes – a spurt which included triples from Williams and Joseph – to tie the game at 53-53.
- A driving layup from senior Shane Hammink (Millingen aan de Rijn, Netherlands/Oakley College [LSU]) gave Valpo a 57-55 lead with 11:33 remaining, and the two sides would go scoreless over the next two minutes before trading haymakers.
- A layup from WSU’s Ryan Custer was met in kind with a triple by Hammink, and after Alstork followed with a 3-pointer of his own, Williams came up with his fourth 3-pointer of the game on Valpo’s next possession – a shot which turned out to give Valpo the lead for good.
- Finally, after a stop, junior Tevonn Walker (Montreal, Quebec/Vanier College) was fouled while grabbing the rebound and hit two free throws, and after Hammink added two free throws 37 seconds later, the Crusaders held a 67-60 lead with 7:35 to play.
- Wright State responded with the next five points as the Crusaders’ lead would sit in the low single digits for the next few minutes. After another stretch of back-and-forth baskets, the lead was just one at 74-73 with 3:34 remaining as the Raiders took a timeout.
- But after the stoppage, Valpo held WSU to just one point the rest of the way, as the Raiders missed three shots and committed three turnovers in the final three minutes.
- Williams nailed a floater in the lane against the Wright State zone out of the under-four media timeout to push the lead to three points. Valpo would hit three of four free throws on its next two possessions to make it a 79-74 game, and the dagger came just under the two-minute mark, as Walker intercepted a Raider pass, broke out and then pitched to Hammink, who finished while being fouled after a picture-perfect Euro step and completed the 3-point play.
Inside the Game
- Friday’s win moved the Crusaders’ league record to 14-3, and with a one-game advantage on Oakland, secured at least a share of the Horizon League regular season title. Valpo has claimed league regular season crowns in five of the last six seasons.
- Valpo joins Butler (2006-11) and Xavier (1989-95) as Horizon League teams which have won five regular season titles in a six-season or fewer span.
- Friday’s win was Valpo’s 24th of the season, tying for the fifth-most in a single season in program history. The Crusaders have won 24 or more eight times – four of which have come in the last five years.
- Valpo played Friday without senior Alec Peters, who was sidelined due to injury and is considered day-to-day. It was the first DNP of Peters’ career and snapped a streak of 134 consecutive games started – which was the longest active streak in the nation.
- Despite the absence of Peters, the Crusaders enjoyed one of their most efficient offensive performances of the year. Valpo hit nearly 50% from the floor – its sixth straight game at 45% or better from the field – and was 11-of-24 from 3-point range to match a season high for 3-pointers made.
- Hammink stepped up to lead the way in the scoring column, finishing with a career-best 25 points on 9-of-15 shooting. The senior also grabbed five rebounds – three of which were offensive rebounds which he immediately converted into baskets – and tallied three steals.
- Williams posted the second-highest scoring output of his career as he finished with 19 points – 14 of which came in the second half – including a 4-for-5 mark from 3-point range. The junior came up shy only of his career-high 22 from his freshman year at Detroit. Williams also added a team-best five steals to lead the defensive effort – his third effort of five or more steals on the year.
- Walker added 17 points, 11 of which came after halftime. The junior also paced the Crusaders with six rebounds and tallied four steals of his own.
- Joseph added nine points in 24 minutes off the bench, while Bradford connected on a pair of key early 3-pointers for six points.
- All nine members of the Crusader rotation played at least 12 minutes on Friday, with only Hammink and Walker playing more than 26 minutes. Senior Nick Davidson (Munster, Ind./Andrean) played 13 minutes with two rebounds and two points in his second straight start, while freshman John Kiser (Noblesville, Ind./Noblesville) played a season-high 18 minutes off the bench.
- The Crusaders forced 22 turnovers from Wright State, 14 of which were Valpo steals – matching its second-highest output of the season in the steals category. Valpo converted those 22 takeaways into 26 points.
- Wright State (19-11, 10-7 Horizon) posted solid shooting numbers across the board, as the Raiders hit 54.5% from the floor, 11-of-22 from 3-point range and 15-of-18 from the foul line. Alstork led WSU with 28 points.
The chance to clinch the outright Horizon League regular season crown and the number one seed for the Horizon League Championship awaits the Crusaders on Sunday afternoon, as Valpo (24-6, 14-3 Horizon) closes the regular season at Northern Kentucky. Tipoff is set for noon CT, and as always, the game can be seen live on ESPN3, WatchESPN and the ESPN app and heard live on the Valpo Sports Network (WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso; WVLP, 103.1 FM, Valparaiso). Links for the live coverage will be available via ValpoAthletics.com.