Valparaiso (11-11, 2-7 MVC)
Game #23 - Saturday, January 27 - 9 p.m.
at Illinois State (10-11, 4-5 MVC)
Redbird Arena (10,200) - Normal, Ill.
Next Up in Crusader Basketball: The Valparaiso University men’s basketball team kicks off the second half of its initial foray into Missouri Valley Conference basketball on Saturday night, as the Crusaders head to Normal, Ill. to take on Illinois State in a nationally-televised matchup.
Last Time Out: Valpo connected on 11 3-pointers Wednesday night at the ARC as the Crusaders welcomed Evansville, but it wouldn’t prove to be enough, as the Purple Aces came away with a 75-65 victory over the Crusaders. Mileek McMillan hit four of the Crusaders’ 11 triples to finish with a career-best 12 points, while Bakari Evelyn led the way for Valpo with 17 points.
Following the Crusaders: TV - ESPN2 - Mitch Holthus (PxP) and Malcolm Huckaby (Analyst)
Radio – WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso) - Todd Ickow (PxP) and Aaron Leavitt (Analyst)
Links for the live coverage will be available at ValpoAthletics.com.
Head Coach Matt Lottich: Matt Lottich (35-20) continued the Valparaiso University men’s basketball program’s run of success in his first season as head coach of the Crusaders, and is poised to keep the program at a high level as he enters his second season in charge in 2017-2018. In his first season at the helm, Lottich guided Valpo to its fifth Horizon League regular season championship in the last six years as he led the Crusaders to 24 wins and an at-large berth into the NIT.
Series Notes: Despite being a pair of mid-major programs located just 2 1/2 hours apart, Valpo and Illinois State have met just 11 times over the years, while Saturday’s game will be the first matchup between the two programs since 1981. The Redbirds hold a 7-4 advantage in the all-time series, including a victory in the most recent meeting - 55-38 in Normal on Feb. 16, 1981. Valpo’s four wins in the series all came between 1943 and 1945.
- Valpo was selected to finish in sixth place in the MVC preseason poll, finishing just 12 points behind Southern Illinois for fifth place.
- Valpo has not finished worse in the final standings than its preseason projection in the last seven years.
- Senior Tevonn Walker represented the Crusaders among the preseason All-Conference honorees, earning Second Team accolades.
...looking back at last year
- The Crusaders are coming off of their third consecutive Horizon League regular season title and their fifth in the last six years, posting a 14-4 mark within league play and a 24-9 record overall.
- The regular season was highlighted by a win over #21 Rhode Island at the ARC - the program’s first win over a ranked opponent since 1998 - and wins in Las Vegas over Alabama and BYU to earn the MGM Grand Main Event title.
- Valpo earned an at-large bid into the Postseason NIT for the second time in program history, falling at Illinois in a first-round matchup. The NIT berth extended the Crusaders’ string of postseason appearances to seven straight seasons.
- Alec Peters was named an NABC Third Team All-American and an AP Honorable Mention All-American and claimed the Horizon League Player of the Year award.
- Peters closed out his career as the Crusaders’ all-time leading scorer and rebounder.
- Shane Hammink was a Second Team All-League selection, while Tevonn Walker was named to the league’s All-Defensive Team.
...notes from Evansville
- Valpo led by as many as eight points in the first half before Evansville turned the game with a 13-0 run.
- The Purple Aces led by eight at the half, and while the Crusaders closed within two in the second half and twice had a shot to take the lead, Valpo never could re-gain the advantage.
- Valpo finished with at least 10 3-pointers for the fourth time this year, going 11-of-27 from distance, but was just 10-for-30 from inside the arc and 12-of-21 from the foul line.
- McMillan led the way from the 3-point line, hitting 4-of-5 from deep as he finished with a career-best 12 points. The freshman is the fourth different Crusader to connect on at least four 3-pointers in a single game on the season.
- The Purple Aces were just 2-of-5 from the 3-point line, but hit at a 93.5% clip from the foul line, going 29-of-31 from the charity stripe. It marked the best free throw shooting performance by a Valpo opponent since November of 2013.
...notes from Loyola
- Valpo trailed by 10 with 2:42 to play in the first half, but scored the last six points of the half and opened the second half with a pair of buckets to tie the game.
- A Bakari Evelyn runner put the Crusaders ahead 32-31 with 16 minutes remaining, but Loyola went on a 16-1 run over the next four minutes to take control and Valpo got no closer than seven points the rest of the way.
- After shooting under 40% in the first half, both teams shot at better than a 50% clip in the second half. While the Crusaders were 12-of-22 from the field in the final 20 minutes, the Ramblers connected on 16-of-27 in the second period – including four 3-pointers.
- Evelyn scored 17 of his game-high 19 points in the second half and picked up three steals for the second straight game.
- Valpo tallied just six assists and committed 13 turnovers, while Loyola recorded 16 assists against just eight turnovers.
- Valpo returns home to the ARC on Wednesday evening to host Indiana State, concluding a week in which the Crusaders host both of their in-state conference foes.
- The Crusaders then head to Southern Illinois next Saturday, Feb. 3.
...on the road
- Valpo has finished above .500 in true road games in four of the last five seasons, including a 7-6 mark in such games last year.
- Prior to this stretch, the Crusaders had not finished above .500 on the road in the previous 10 years.
- Valpo currently sits at 2-8 in true road games this year following its loss at Missouri State.
- Illinois State will enter Saturday’s game with a 10-11 overall record and a 4-5 mark in MVC play.
- The Redbirds have lost four of their last five in Valley action, including an 83-72 loss last time out at UNI.
- Milik Yarbrough, Keyshawn Evans and Phil Fayne are all averaging at least 16 points per game for Illinois State.
Strength of The Valley
- This season’s iteration of the Missouri Valley Conference has proven to be the Crusaders’ most challenging conference slate in recent history.
- The MVC is currently ranked eighth in conference RPI and ninth in KenPom this season.
- Each of the other nine MVC programs is ranked 153rd or better in RPI and 167th or better in KenPom.
- Last year, six of Valpo’s nine league opponents ranked lower than the lowest MVC opponent this season in both RPI and KenPom.
Putting Up a Fight
- While the Crusaders are just 2-7 at the halfway mark in Valley play, they have been right in most of the games.
- The Crusaders have led at the half in four of nine MVC games and were tied in another.
- All told, Valpo has held second-half leads in six of its first nine Valley games, and most recently were within two points with a pair of shots to take the lead under the 11-minute mark against Evansville.
- One area where this year’s Crusader squad has excelled is in the steals category, as Valpo is averaging an MVC-best 7.8 steals/game - a mark which ranks 46th nationally.
- The Crusaders are on pace for their highest steals/game average for a single season since the 2002-03 squad recorded 8.8 steals/game.
- Leading the way in the steals department is Tevonn Walker, who ranks second in the Valley with 2.1 steals/game and is on pace to crack Valpo’s single-season chart in the category.
- With 139 career steals, Walker is also just three away from moving into the Crusaders’ all-time top-10.
New Scoring Marks
- Six different Crusaders have matched or set a new career high for points scored in a single game since the start of MVC play.
- Most recently, last time out against Evansville, Mileek McMillan connected on four 3-pointers for a career-best 12 points.
- Versus Loyola, Derrik Smits tied his career high as he went for 14 points against the Ramblers.
- Markus Golder set his career best at the D-I level with a basket in the final seconds, finishing with 18 points at UNI as he went 7-of-11 from the field.
- In the win over Drake, senior Tevonn Walker matched his career high as he scored 26 points, including five 3-pointers.
- Both Max Joseph and Jaume Sorolla set new career bests in scoring in the win over Southern Illinois with 17 points apiece.
- Sorolla’s performance against the Salukis was most notable, as he scored his 17 points in just 12 minutes - making him the first Valpo player to score 17 or more points while playing 12 or fewer minutes in a game in at least 30 years.
Cracking The Top-20
- With his final point at Bradley on Jan. 3, senior Tevonn Walker moved into the top-20 in Crusader history in career scoring.
- Against Loyola, Walker surpassed Darryl Ashby (1974-78) for 18th position in program history.
- Walker currently sits with 1,268 career points.
- Next up for Walker is Chuck Kriston (1960-63) in 17th position - Kriston scored 1,287 points over his three seasons.
We Are Young
- The Crusaders feature nine underclassmen on their roster.
- The active squad boasts two seniors, six sophomores and three freshmen.
- Valpo ranks 257th nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s experience metric, which weights the experience of each player based on minutes played - the Crusaders’ ranking is the lowest in The Valley.
Valpo in the Valley
- A new era begins this year for Valpo men’s basketball and the athletics department and University as a whole, as the 2017-18 year is Valpo’s first as a member of the Missouri Valley Conference.
- The Valley is renowned for its men’s basketball success on the national stage. Since the year 2000, The Valley has earned 33 bids to the NCAA Tournament – 18 automatic bids and 15 at-large berths – and has posted 27 tournament victories.
- Since 2010, 12 MVC programs in the NCAA Tournament have combined for 16 victories.
- The Crusaders are looking to carry over the success they’ve had in the past two-plus decades into The Valley.
- Over its last 13 years as a member of the Mid-Continent Conference (1994-2007), Valpo claimed nine regular season and eight tournament championships.
- Then, in a decade as a Horizon League member (2007-2017), the Crusaders won five regular season and two tournament titles.
- The Crusaders ended non-conference play with nine wins, missing out on double-figure victories in non-conference action for just the second time in the last six years.
- Valpo owns a 60-23 (.723) record in pre-league action over the last six years.
- The loss to Purdue capped the Crusaders’ open to the 2017-18 season as the third best in program history.
- Valpo ended up 8-0 to start this season - the only two starts in program history better than 8-0 both came from teams which boast renowned monikers.
- The World’s Tallest Team (1944-45) won 11 straight contests to open that season en route to a 21-3 record.
- The best start all-time by a Crusader squad came from the Victory Five (1923-24), which won its first 22 games of the year and finished the season 24-4.
- With its win over Utah State, Valpo secured a perfect record in the month of November, finishing the month 8-0.
- It marked just the second perfect month for the Crusaders over the last 70 years (minimum three games played).
- The only other month where Valpo posted an undefeated mark came in February of 1998, as the Crusaders went 7-0 - a streak which eventually extended to a total of 13 straight wins as Valpo advanced to the Sweet 16.
- The first five of the Crusaders’ wins this season all came by at least 20 points, the first time in program history that Valpo has won five straight by 20+ points.
- The Crusaders’ first four wins of the year all came by at least 25 points, the first four-game winning streak in program history where all four wins came by 25+ points.
- The 25-point win at SIUE marked Valpo’s largest known margin of victory in a road opener (dating back to the mid-1940s when sites are denoted within the all-time results).
- Valpo has had an entire team’s worth of talent from the past five years go on to professional basketball careers.
- Most notably, Alec Peters was selected by the Phoenix Suns with the 54th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft and is currently on a two-way contract with Phoenix and the Northern Arizona Suns of the G-League.
- Peters is currently averaging 18.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game for the NAZ Suns and has appeared in five games, scoring 14 points, for the Phoenix Suns.
- E. Victor Nickerson (2016) has also seen time in the G-League with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.
- Ryan Broekhoff (2013) highlights the Crusaders’ international pros who have graduated in the last five years, as he currently stars for Lokomotiv in Russia’s VTB United League and the EuroCup.
- Shane Hammink (2017) is playing for Bilbao Basket of Liga ACB in Spain - the top division - while Jubril Adekoya (2017), Vashil Fernandez (2016) and Kevin Van Wijk (2013) are all playing for CB Peñas Huesca of LEB Oro - Spain’s second division.
- Lavonte Dority (2014) is playing for Den Helder Suns in the top division in the Netherlands, while Jordan Coleman (2014) has played for Omnia Basket in Italy’s second division.
The International Flavor
- This year’s squad continues the international pipeline that Valpo has cultivated over the past two decades.
- The Crusaders boast four international players on this year’s roster from three different countries.
- Represented are Canada (Joseph and Walker), Spain (Sorolla) and Germany (Linssen).
- Over the past 21 years, the Crusaders have welcomed 33 international players from 19 different countries.
Crusaders Sign Javon Freeman-Liberty
- One of the top prospects in the Class of 2018 in the state of Illinois, Javon Freeman-Liberty signed a National Letter of Intent during the early signing period and will join Valpo as a freshman for the 2018-19 season.
- Freeman-Liberty helped lead Whitney Young H.S. to the Illinois Class 4A state title last year as a junior, averaging 13.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.
- The 6’4” Chicago native is a consensus top-10 prospect in his class in Illinois and is ranked fifth overall in the state and 37th nationally among shooting guards by ESPN. He played his AAU basketball last summer for Meanstreets.