The Valparaiso University men’s basketball team raced out to a quick 17-2 lead at Illinois State Tuesday night and held the Redbirds at bay when they made big runs in both halves, eventually leaving Normal, Ill. with a 69-53 victory to snap a four-game losing streak. Freshman Javon Freeman (Chicago, Ill./Whitney Young) scored a career-best 27 points to lead the way in the winning effort.
How It Happened
- Valpo started the game on a 14-0 run over the opening 3:49 of action, led by nine early points from Freeman, who had a pair of 3-pointers and a 3-point play on a fast-break dunk in the opening minutes.
- Illinois State got on the board with a tough inside basket from Phil Fayne 4:14 into the game, but Valpo answered immediately with a 3-pointer from junior Markus Golder (Portland, Ore./Clackamas [North Idaho]) – the Crusaders’ fourth triple in the early going – to make it a 17-2 game 4:30 into the contest and force the Redbirds to use their second timeout.
- Senior Deion Lavender (Alton, Ill./Marquette Catholic [UAB/Southern Illinois]) hit a pair of free throws with 11:12 to play in the first half to give Valpo its largest lead to that point at 25-8.
- Illinois State would score the next 13 points over a stretch of five-plus minutes to pull to within 25-21 with less than seven minutes to play in the half.
- The Redbirds actually had a shot to get to within one, but it was off the mark, and Valpo would score on each of its next three possessions to spark a 16-3 run over the final six minutes of the half. Freeman had eight of Valpo’s 16 during that span to cap a 20-point first half as the Brown and Gold took a 41-24 lead into the break.
- Valpo outscored Illinois State 10-3 over the first three-plus minutes of the second half, scoring on its first five offensive possessions. After going scoreless in the first half, junior Derrik Smits (Zionsville, Ind./Zionsville) scored four baskets in that opening stretch, including a pair of mid-range baseline jumpers.
- A gritty play from junior John Kiser (Noblesville, Ind./Noblesville), coming up with a strip following an Illinois State rebound and then dishing an assist from the ground to Daniel Sackey (Winnipeg, Man./Thornlea) for a layup, put Valpo ahead 56-33 with 12:38 to play.
- That would prove to be the Crusaders’ last point for nearly eight minutes, as Illinois State reeled off 15 consecutive points to close to within 56-48 with 5:17 remaining.
- Smits finally broke the scoreless stretch, rebounding his own miss inside and getting the putback to briefly make it a double-figure lead again. Illinois State’s Zach Copeland came down and connected on a 3-pointer to move the Redbirds within 58-51.
- After an empty possession for each team, it was Valpo’s ball with 3:42 to play following the final media timeout, and with Illinois State going with a small lineup, Valpo pounded the ball inside. The Brown and Gold scored on each of their next four possessions to put the game away – three of which were baskets at the rim from Smits.
- Freeman capped his career night with a 3-pointer with 57 seconds to play.
Inside the Game
- Tuesday’s win snapped a four-game losing streak and improved Valpo’s record to 6-5 in MVC play. With seven games left to play in the conference schedule, Valpo has already matched its conference win total from a season ago.
- Freeman’s career night was the story of the evening for Valpo. The freshman finished with a career-best 27 points, going 11-of-13 from the floor, including 4-of-6 from the 3-point line. He is just the second MVC freshman to score 27 points in a game this season.
- 20 of Freeman’s 27 points came in the first half, the highest-scoring half by a Valpo player since Tevonn Walker had 22 second-half points against Missouri State in last season’s MVC Tournament.
- Freeman is the first Valpo player with a 20-point first half since Alec Peters scored 23 in the opening 20 minutes against Indiana State in December of 2016. Peters was also the last Valpo freshman to score 20 in a half, scoring 20 in the second half at Evansville in November of 2013.
- Beyond the scoring, Freeman matched his career highs in assists (four) and steals (three), as well as pulling down five rebounds.
- While Freeman led the way in the first half, it was Smits who carried the second-half load. The junior was 8-of-9 from the field in the second half for 16 points, rebounding his only miss himself, after going scoreless in the first half. Smits also finished the game with five rebounds.
- Kiser put together a strong all-around effort in his return to the starting lineup. Playing a career-high 36 minutes, Kiser finished with six points, a game-high seven rebounds, a career-high tying three assists and a new career-best three steals.
- Sackey matched his career high with six assists.
- For the game, Valpo shot 50.9% (28-of-55) from the floor and was 10-of-23 (43.5%) from 3-point range. The Brown and Gold connected on 8-of-13 (61.5%) from deep in the first half.
- The 10 3-pointers matched the number of triples Valpo had made in its last four games combined. It also marked the third time this year the team has hit at least 10 triples in a game, all of which have been wins.
- Valpo tallied 18 assists on its 28 baskets, the most assists the team has registered since posting 18 in the home win earlier this year over Bradley.
- Valpo limited Illinois State to just 40% shooting from the field, including a 7-of-25 mark from 3-point range. The Crusaders held Milik Yarbrough, who entered the game averaging 17.1 ppg in MVC play, to just nine points on 4-of-11 shooting.
- Valpo forced 17 Illinois State turnovers Tuesday, matching the most turnovers it has forced in an MVC game this year, and held a 27-17 advantage in points off turnovers. Valpo also outscored the Redbirds 12-2 on the fast break and 28-14 in the paint.
Valpo (13-11, 6-5 MVC) returns to the ARC for its next two games, starting on Sunday afternoon as it welcomes Loyola for a nationally televised game on ESPNU. Tipoff is slated for 3 p.m.