The Valparaiso University men’s basketball team became just the second team in the nation to start this season 8-0, marking the third-best start to a season in program history, as the Crusaders took down Utah State at the ARC Tuesday evening, 72-65. The victory opened the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge with a win for The Valley in the Crusaders’ first appearance in the challenge series.
How It Happened
- A back-and-forth first half saw the lead change hands six times in addition to three tie scores. Valpo answered an 8-0 Utah State run with a 9-0 run of its own, capped by a steal and layup from freshman Marten Linssen (Dusseldorf, Germany/Schloss-Gymnasium Benrath), to take a 22-17 lead with 8:53 to go in the half, but the Aggies responded with back-to-back 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to regain the lead.
- Tied at 25 approaching the five-minute mark of the first half, the Crusaders went on a 9-2 spurt over a three-minute span to take the lead for good – a run which was highlighted by 3-point plays from senior Tevonn Walker (Montreal, Quebec/Vanier College) and redshirt sophomore Markus Golder (Portland, Ore./Clackamas [North Idaho]).
- Utah State would score the final four points of the first half, however, to cut the Valpo advantage to 34-31 at intermission.
- The Aggies scored on their first possession of the second half as well to make it a 34-33 game, but the Crusaders scored the next six – including baskets on back-to-back trips from sophomore Jaume Sorolla (Tortosa, Spain/Sunrise Christian [Kan.] Academy) – to go ahead 40-33 with 17 minutes remaining.
- That would set the tone for the remainder of the game, as Valpo was never able to pull completely away, but would never be in a position to relinquish the lead either.
- Utah State made it a one-possession game twice in the second half – at the 11:13 and 9:46 marks – but both times, the Crusaders scored on their next trip, getting a second-chance basket from redshirt sophomore Bakari Evelyn (Detroit, Mich./Hillcrest Academy/Southfield Christian [Nebraska]) and a jumper in the lane by Walker, respectively.
- Walker would connect on a 3-pointer two possessions after the latter basket to complete a personal five-point spurt and extend Valpo’s lead to eight points at 57-49 with 8:26 to play. Utah State would get no closer than five points the rest of the way, as the Crusaders went 7-of-8 from the foul line over the game’s final 75 seconds to secure the win.
Inside the Game
- Valpo joins Duke as the nation’s only teams with an 8-0 record through Tuesday’s action.
- The Crusaders are one of just 23 undefeated programs left in the nation as of late Tuesday, and are the lone remaining unbeaten in The Valley.
- Valpo has made a habit of winning a lot of games early in the season in recent years, this year’s team joining the fun as the nation’s second team to eight wins. The 2015-16 team was the first in the nation to four, five and six victories, while the 2016-17 squad was one of just two teams to win three games in the season’s first four days.
- Meanwhile, the 8-0 start is historic for the Crusader men’s basketball program as well, as it is only the third time in program history Valpo has won at least eight straight to open a season.
- Only the Victory Five (1923-24), which won its first 22 games of the year, and the World’s Tallest Team (1944-45), which won 11 straight to begin the season, have opened a season with more consecutive wins than this year’s squad.
- Valpo helped The Valley get off to a 2-1 start in the first day of the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge, as Missouri State beat Colorado State while Loyola fell on the road at Boise State.
- Walker led the way for the Crusaders on Tuesday, surpassing the 20-point mark for the third time this year with 25 points and narrowly missing a double-double as he grabbed nine boards as well.
- Sorolla – who entered the game with just 20 points scored total through his first five appearances of the year – set a new career high with 16 points as he went 5-of-6 from the field and 6-of-7 from the foul line. The sophomore also registered eight rebounds and blocked a pair of shots.
- Evelyn joined the aforementioned duo in double figures with 10 points and handed out four assists.
- While the Crusaders struggled from the perimeter on Tuesday, hitting just 2-of-13 from downtown, they made up for it with a large advantage in the paint, ending the night with a 42-18 edge in close over the Aggies.
- Valpo has been one of the nation’s best teams this year in terms of opponent’s 3-point percentage, and that continued again on Tuesday, as Utah State (4-4) was just 9-for-33 from behind the arc. Sam Merrill led the Aggies with 19 points, but needed 16 field goal attempts to reach the mark.
Valpo (8-0) gets a nine-day respite from competition before returning to action for the first of six consecutive road games on Thursday, Dec. 7 at Purdue. The game, scheduled for a 5:30 p.m. CT tipoff, will be broadcast live on Fox Sports 1.