The Valparaiso University men’s basketball team came up just shy of claiming an outright Horizon League regular season title in the finale on Sunday, dropping a tight 82-78 decision at Northern Kentucky. The Crusaders finished the regular season tied atop the Horizon League standings with Oakland and will be the second seed for the upcoming Horizon League Championship at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, opening tournament play Saturday night at 7 p.m. CT versus either Detroit Mercy or Milwaukee.
How It Happened
- Trailing by eight points with less than six minutes to play, the Crusaders rattled off six points in three consecutive possessions – capped by a 3-pointer from senior Shane Hammink (Millingen aan de Rijn, Netherlands/Oakley College [LSU]) – to close to within 69-67 with 4:39 to go.
- Both squads traded a pair of free throws and then each finished inside on their next two trips as it remained a two-point game. Back-to-back empty possessions for the Crusaders, however, allowed NKU to pull ahead 76-71 with 90 seconds remaining following a basket from Drew McDonald.
- Junior Tevonn Walker (Montreal, Quebec/Vanier College) knocked down a deep two-pointer on Valpo’s next trip to cut the lead to three, and the Crusaders had a shot to tie following an NKU miss inside the final minute.
- The Crusaders’ 3-point attempt was off the mark, forcing Valpo to foul with 25 seconds to play. After the Norse hit two free throws, Valpo missed a pair of 3-point attempts but secured offensive boards on each, and Hammink finally connected on a triple with 5.3 seconds to go to pull the Crusaders within 78-76.
- Valpo fouled McDonald for a one-and-one before the pass was inbounded, but he hit both to give NKU a four-point lead. The Crusaders had another shot, as racing the ball upcourt in the final seconds, junior Max Joseph (Montreal, Quebec/Vanier College) was fouled and hit both free throws to cut the lead to 80-78. But after committing another foul, Lavone Holland II connected on both his free throw attempts for the final margin.
- It was an uphill battle all day long for the Crusaders, who found themselves trailing by double figures just 6:17 into the game as they started the game 2-for-10 from the floor.
- Walker single-handedly pulled the Crusaders into a tie, as after being held scoreless for the first 12-plus minutes, he scored eight straight Valpo points in just 73 seconds and hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 27-27 with 6:16 to play in the half.
- Walker added another triple at the 3:56 mark to make it a 33-32 game, and then Joseph would score Valpo’s final five points of the half as the Crusaders trailed 40-37 going into halftime.
- Both teams came out on fire from the field to start the second half. Valpo hit its first three 3-point attempts over the first four minutes – two from Walker and one from Hammink – as the Crusaders hit five straight triples in all, but NKU also hit three 3-pointers in the first four minutes of the half.
- Valpo took its lone lead of the game with 12:39 to play, as freshman Micah Bradford (Bradley, Ill./Bradley-Bourbonnais) hit from behind the arc to make it 56-55 Crusaders. But the advantage was short-lived, as Holland answered with a 3-pointer of his own 32 seconds later.
- An inside basket from freshman Derrik Smits (Zionsville, Ind./Zionsville) tied the game at 58-58 with 11:48 remaining, but the Crusaders would go cold over the next six minutes. NKU went on an 11-3 run over that stretch, capped by a McDonald 3-pointer, to set up the closing minutes.
Inside the Game
- Valpo’s defensive efficiency of 123.5 (points surrendered/100 possessions) was its worst single-game performance in the category since a loss at UCF on Dec. 22, 2013. In addition, Valpo’s offensive efficiency (117.4) was its highest mark in a loss since a defeat at Evansville on Nov. 20, 2013.
- The Crusaders went 12-for-30 from 3-point range – setting a new season high for 3-pointers made – and connected on 16-of-20 from the foul line. But Valpo surrendered 57.8% (26-of-45) shooting to the Norse, as NKU hit at nearly a 70% clip from inside the arc. The Norse were also 22-of-26 from the foul line.
- For the second straight game, the Crusaders had one of their leading scorers set a new career high, as Walker finished with a career-best 25 points. The junior hit four 3-pointers and was 7-of-9 from the foul line. He also added four assists and three steals as well.
- Hammink followed up his 25-point effort from Friday night with 23 points on Sunday, including a 4-for-7 mark from the 3-point line. He also came up with three steals.
- Joseph added 12 points and four rebounds, while Bradford chipped in eight points.
- Freshman John Kiser (Noblesville, Ind./Noblesville) played a season-high 26 minutes and set a new career best with six rebounds to pace the Crusaders.
- Valpo grabbed 10 offensive rebounds and converted them into 12 second-chance points, while the Crusaders also scored 20 points off of 13 NKU turnovers.
- McDonald paced Northern Kentucky (21-10, 12-6 Horizon) with 23 points and six rebounds, while Holland added 17 points and nine assists.
As the second seed for Motor City Madness, the Crusaders (24-7, 14-4 Horizon) will await the winner of Friday night’s Detroit-Milwaukee game. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. CT on Saturday evening from Joe Louis Arena, and can be seen live on ESPN3, WatchESPN and the ESPN app. As always, the game can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Network (WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso; WVLP, 103.1 FM, Valparaiso) as well. Links for the live coverage will be available via ValpoAthletics.com.