The Valparaiso University men’s basketball team represented the Hoosier State well on Saturday as part of Basketball Day Indiana, leading start to finish in a 75-66 victory over UNI at the ARC. Junior Derrik Smits (Zionsville, Ind./Zionsville) led the way with one of the top efforts of his career, finishing with 21 points and 11 rebounds.
How It Happened
- Valpo’s defense was strong early on, limiting UNI to just one field goal in the opening eight and a half minutes as Valpo jumped out to a 16-5 lead. Smits had six points during the game-opening stretch, while fellow junior Jaume Sorolla (Tortosa, Spain/Sunrise Christian [Kan.] Academy) had four as well.
- UNI responded with a 12-2 run of its own to cut the lead to 18-17 with 8:23 to play in the half.
- Out of a timeout, junior Markus Golder (Portland, Ore./Clackamas [North Idaho]) converted a 3-point play and then came up with a 3-pointer on Valpo’s next possession to score the first six points in what would be a 7-0 spurt for the Brown and Gold, giving it a 25-17 lead with 5:52 to play in the first half.
- UNI moved to within three late in the half, but would get no closer, and a two-handed jam in the paint from Golder with 25 seconds to play in the opening period gave Valpo a 36-30 advantage at halftime.
- Valpo made a concerted effort to pound the ball inside to open the second half, as Smits attempted 10 of the team’s first 12 field goals of the half. The other two came from freshman Daniel Sackey (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada/Thornlea), who converted a driving layup and knocked down a 3-pointer.
- The lead hovered around the mid-single digits for the first 10+ minutes of the second half, but Valpo finally extended out past the halfway mark. Junior John Kiser (Noblesville, Ind./Noblesville) hit both ends of a one-and-one, and two possessions later, grabbed an offensive rebound and kicked it out to junior Bakari Evelyn (Detroit, Mich./Hillcrest Academy/Southfield Christian [Nebraska]) for a 3-pointer which made it 58-48 Valpo with 7:31 to play.
- After the two squads traded baskets, UNI went on a 7-0 spurt to cut the lead to 60-57 with four minutes to play. But Valpo went right back inside, as Evelyn assisted on back-to-back interior baskets by Smits to push the advantage back to seven points inside of three minutes.
- UNI’s AJ Green drew a foul shooting a 3-pointer with 2:39 to play and hit all three free throws to cut the Valpo lead to 64-60, but again Valpo responded, as Evelyn connected on a triple the next time down the floor.
- The Panthers got a second-chance basket from Luke McDonnell with 1:50 to go to make it a 67-62 game, but yet again, the Brown and Gold answered the challenge – this time courtesy of a 3-pointer from senior Deion Lavender (Alton, Ill./Marquette Catholic [UAB/Southern Illinois]) to push the lead back to 70-62 with 1:32 to go.
- McDonnell hit both ends of a one-and-one for the Panthers with 1:14 to play to pull to within six, and UNI then forced a Valpo shot clock violation with 44 seconds remaining.
- But driving into the paint on the offensive end, UNI’s Wyatt Lohaus was stripped by Sorolla, who knocked the ball off of Lohaus and out of bounds to regain possession. Facing a full court pass, Valpo threw the home run ball, as Lavender connected with freshman Javon Freeman (Chicago, Ill./Whitney Young) for the breakout two-hand dunk to make it 72-64 with 34 seconds to go. UNI would get no closer than six points the rest of the way.
Inside the Game
- With the victory, Valpo remains tied with Loyola atop the Missouri Valley Conference standings with a 5-1 mark at the one-third mark of the conference slate.
- The win over UNI was just the third for Valpo against the Panthers in 27 meetings all-time. It snapped a seven-game winning streak for UNI in the series – Valpo’s last victory versus the Panthers came back in February 1989 at the ARC.
- Leading the way Saturday was Smits, who had a size advantage on the interior and took full advantage to the tune of 21 points and 11 rebounds – just two points and one rebound off of his career highs.
- Smits posted his third double-double of the season and reached the 20-point mark for the fourth time this year.
- Smits’ 11 rebounds led all players as Valpo out-rebounded UNI by a 34-20 margin. The +14 advantage on the glass marked the best performance on the boards against a D-I team for Valpo this season.
- Smits also helped Valpo to a 34-14 advantage in points in the paint.
- Smits was joined in double figures by Evelyn and Golder, who scored 14 and 13 points, respectively.
- Evelyn connected on three 3-pointers on his way to 14 points, 10 of which came in the second half. It was the junior’s highest point total since he scored 27 at George Washington back on December 8.
- Golder went 4-of-6 from the floor for his 13 points, all of which came in the first half, and came down with six rebounds as well. Kiser also pulled down six boards and scored a season-high seven points while also handing out three assists without a turnover.
- Lavender and Freeman tied for game-high honors with four assists apiece as Valpo assisted on 17 of its 26 baskets.
- Valpo hit at a 51% (26-of-51) clip from the floor Saturday and was 7-of-16 from behind the 3-point line. The Brown and Gold’s offensive efficiency of 121.4 was the best performance against the UNI defense this season.
- Valpo also was strong at the foul line, finishing the day with a season-best 84.2% (16-of-19) performance at the stripe. Valpo has now shot better than 80% from the line in back-to-back games.
Valpo (12-7, 5-1 MVC) returns to the road Wednesday evening as it travels to Terre Haute to face in-state foe Indiana State. Tipoff is slated for 6 p.m. CT, and the game can be seen live on ESPN3.