Trailing by 11 late in the first half at UNLV, the Valparaiso University men’s basketball team ended the opening period on an 11-4 run and then started the second half on a 15-2 run to take control, eventually going on to a 72-64 victory over the Runnin’ Rebels Wednesday evening as part of the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge series.
How It Happened
- The first 12-plus minutes of the game were about as tightly contested as a game can be, as neither team gained more than a two-point lead.
- The game was tied at 20-20 12 minutes in following a fast-break dunk from junior Derrik Smits (Zionsville, Ind./Zionsville), as he reached double figures in the first half.
- UNLV gained separation over the next few minutes, going on an 11-0 run over a two-minute stretch to take a 31-20 lead with 5:46 to play in the first half.
- A layup from freshman Javon Freeman (Chicago, Ill./Whitney Young) and a 3-pointer by junior Bakari Evelyn (Detroit, Mich./Hillcrest Academy/Southfield Christian [Nebraska]) cut the Rebels’ advantage to five points, but UNLV came back with back-to-back baskets as its lead was still double figures with 3:37 to play in the period.
- Valpo scored the final six points of the half to cut the deficit to 35-31 at the break, however. Junior Markus Golder (Portland, Ore./Clackamas [North Idaho]) threw down his second put-back dunk of the game, senior Deion Lavender (Alton, Ill./Marquette Catholic [UAB/Southern Illinois]) converted a fast-break layup off a Valpo steal and then returned the favor to Freeman for a fast-break dunk to cut it to four.
- Valpo quickly took the lead in the second half, as Smits scored five points over the first three possessions to give the Crusaders the lead for good. A 3-pointer from Lavender extended the run to start the period to 8-0 and forced a UNLV timeout with 17:49 to play, as Valpo led 39-35.
- A basket for the Rebels briefly slowed the momentum, but that proved to be UNLV’s only points in the first seven minutes of the second half. Another Evelyn 3-pointer, an alley-oop from Freeman to Golder and another fast-break dunk for Freeman pushed the lead to 46-37 with 14:22 to play.
- With the lead sitting at seven points as the clock ticked under 10 minutes to play, 3-pointers on consecutive possessions from junior Ryan Fazekas (Chesterton, Ind./Marquette Catholic [Providence]) and Freeman gave Valpo its largest advantage at 56-43 with 8:57 remaining.
- The lead would remain within a couple points either side of a 10-point advantage for most of the remainder of the game. UNLV actually cut the lead to just six points and had possession with less than a minute to play, but the Rebels missed a pair of looks in close, and Valpo connected on 5-of-6 from the foul line down the stretch to secure the win.
Inside the Game
- Valpo has now won its MWC/MVC Challenge series game in each of its two seasons as an MVC member institution. The Brown and Gold took down Utah State at the ARC last year.
- Valpo’s win over the Rebels gives the MVC a 5-3 lead in the series with two games remaining on Saturday.
- Wednesday’s victory is the sixth straight for the Valpo men’s basketball program in Las Vegas, dating back to 2004.
- Turnovers were the story of the game on Wednesday. Valpo forced 25 UNLV turnovers, the most by a Valpo Division I opponent since Chicago State coughed the ball up 25 times in March of 2002. Valpo scored 32 points off of the 25 UNLV turnovers, while 13 of the miscues were Valpo steals – led by four apiece from Evelyn and Lavender.
- Facing one of the nation’s top rebounding teams, Valpo more than held its own on the glass on Wednesday. UNLV held a slim 45-41 advantage on the boards, but Valpo grabbed 17 offensive rebounds to the Rebels’ 16 and enjoyed an 18-6 edge in second-chance points.
- Smits continued his strong recent run of play on Wednesday, leading all players with 20 points and grabbing a career-best 12 rebounds. The junior picked up his first career double-double and has now scored 20 or more in three of Valpo’s last four games.
- Smits was joined in double figures by a pair of his fellow juniors. Evelyn connected on 7-of-8 from the foul line in finishing with 13 points, while also leading Valpo with five assists and matching his career best with four steals. Golder scored 10 points, eight of which came on dunks, and had a pair of highlight-reel blocked shots as well.
- Valpo shot just 37.1% for the game (26-of-70) – its worst shooting percentage in a win since hitting 36.2% in a win over Southern Utah to open the 2016-17 season. The defense limited UNLV to 40.9% shooting in addition to the Rebels’ 25 turnovers, however, including just a 29.3% mark (12-of-41) in the second half.
Valpo (4-3), which has played five of its last six games away from home, returns home for two games in three days, starting on Sunday afternoon with a 1 p.m. tip against UC Riverside. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN+.