Valparaiso (1-0, 0-0 MVC)
at Saint Louis (1-0, 0-0 Atlantic 10)
Game No. 2 – Saturday, Nov. 9 – 6 p.m. CT
Chaifetz Arena (10,600) – St. Louis, Mo.
Next Up in Valpo Basketball: The first road trip of the 2019-20 season will take the Valparaiso University men’s basketball team back to the same city where the 2018-19 campaign came to an end. The route will be a familiar one, but the destination slightly different as Valpo will visit the home of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament and conference office headquarters, but this time for a nonleague date with Atlantic 10 opponent Saint Louis on Saturday evening.
Last Time Out: Valpo’s signature player made a signature shot on Tuesday night at the Athletics-Recreation Center as Javon Freeman-Liberty converted a go-ahead left elbow jumper with four seconds remaining to account for the difference in a 79-77 triumph over Toledo. Valpo erased a 14-point deficit and led by as many as nine in a seesaw season opener against the preseason favorite to win the MAC West for a third consecutive season. The Rockets reached the NIT a year ago and entered the matchup ranked 23rd in the collegeinsiders.com Preseason Mid-Major Top 25.
Following Valpo Basketball: Video – Fox Sports Midwest, FoxSportsGo.com & ESPN+ (ESPN+ broadcast subject to local blackout in Fox Sports Midwest markets) – Dan McLaughlin (play-by-play) and Scott Highmark (analyst)
Radio – WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso) – Todd Ickow (play-by-play) and Brandon Vickrey (analyst)
Links for the video, audio and live stats will be available at ValpoAthletics.com.
Head Coach Matt Lottich: Matt Lottich (55-44) is in his seventh season overall at Valpo and fourth as head coach in 2019-20. Lottich led the team to 15 victories in his third season in charge in 2018-19, the program’s second campaign in the Missouri Valley Conference. In his first year as head coach (2016-17), Lottich guided Valpo to its fifth Horizon League regular season championship in a six-year span as he led the team to 24 wins and an at-large berth into the NIT. Lottich, hired as the 22nd head coach of the Valpo men’s basketball program in April 2016, graduated from Stanford University in 2004 and New Trier High School (Illinois) in 2000.
A Flair for the Dramatic: Valpo added a new name to its long list of late-game heroes in the program’s storied history on Tuesday night as Javon Freeman-Liberty knocked down an off-balance 15-footer from the left elbow with 3.7 seconds left in a 79-77 victory over Toledo at the Athletics-Recreation Center. That marked the 24th time since the start of the 1992-93 season Valpo has prevailed on a game-winner in the final five seconds. Although it was the first game of the regular season, it was already the second time Valpo has won in dramatic fashion this year as Daniel Sackey’s overtime buzzer-beater lifted the team past Canadian powerhouse Carleton 83-80 in overtime on its foreign tour in August.
Down But Not Out: Valpo trailed by as many as 14 points in Tuesday’s season opener at Toledo, rallying from down 21-7 with 13:28 left in the first half to lead by as many as nine in the seesaw affair. That marked Valpo’s largest comeback since Nov. 12, 2016, when the team trailed by 16 and beat Trinity Christian 89-75. It was the program’s largest comeback against a Division-I opponent since Jan. 17, 2013, when Valpo came from 22 down to beat Detroit Mercy 89-88. In Matt Lottich’s head coaching tenure (fourth season), Tuesday was already the ninth time Valpo has come from down by double figures to emerge victorious. The team overcame four double-figure deficits in 2016-17 (Wright State, Cleveland State, BYU and Trinity Christian), two in 2017-18 (Bradley and UNCW) and two in 2018-19 (George Washington and Illinois State).
Close Calls: This year’s home opener flipped the script on last year’s home finale as Valpo closed out the 2018-19 regular season with a 65-63 loss to Evansville at the ARC on March 2. The Nov. 5 return to the team’s home building was a more pleasant two-point affair with Valpo topping Toledo 79-77. The Brown & Gold have already played six games under Lottich decided by two points or fewer – this year’s opener vs. Toledo, three in 2018-19 (Evansville, Illinois State, High Point) and one in each in 2017-18 (Ball State) and 2016-17 (Milwaukee). The victory over Toledo was Valpo’s second win under Lottich decided by one or two points, joining last season’s buzzer-beating victory over Illinois State. The team has already played 23 games dictated by five points or fewer during Lottich’s time as head coach (fourth season).
Season-Opening Success: Valpo has now won its season opener each of the last eight years with all of them coming at the ARC. The last time Valpo opened the season with a setback was Nov. 7, 2011 at #16 Arizona, 73-64. Valpo has now won the home opener for 15 consecutive seasons with 13 of those victories coming by double figures. The last time Valpo started the home slate with a loss was an 85-71 defeat to Charlotte on Nov. 27, 2004.
Birthday Boy: Freshman Emil Freese-Vilien made his collegiate debut on his birthday in Tuesday’s win over Toledo and celebrated with four points, three rebounds and two assists in the victory.
Series Notes: Valpo holds a slim 5-4 edge in the all-time set with the Billikens. Saturday will mark the renewal of a series that has been on hold since SLU’s 67-65 victory on Dec. 7, 2013. Valpo won the first five meetings – four of which came in the 1920s – but Saint Louis has rapped off four straight head-to-head wins. Valpo is seeking its first win over SLU since Dec. 18, 1982. Valpo is 0-3 in games at Saint Louis, falling 62-49 on Dec. 2, 2012 in the most recent visit. The two-point loss at the ARC in 2013 came in dramatic fashion as LaVonte Dority tied the game on a layup with 3.8 seconds left before a buzzer-beating put-back by Mike McCall sent the Billikens to a 67-65 win.
Individual Accomplishments vs. Toledo
- Ryan Fazekas started his senior season in style by pouring in a career-high 23 points. He eclipsed his previous personal best of 22, which came on Dec. 8, 2018 at George Washington. This marked the sixth straight season a Valpo player scored 20 points or more in the season opener. He was the only player in the Missouri Valley Conference to score 20 points or more on Tuesday night, which saw six of the league’s 10 teams tip off the campaign.
- John Kiser squeezed eight rebounds, finishing one shy of a career high. The senior led the team is that area.
- Daniel Sackey paced the team in the assist department with eight, establishing a personal watermark. His previous best was six, reached three times during his rookie campaign including most recently on Feb. 5, 2019.
- Freshmen Donovan Clay, Emil Freese-Vilien and Ben Krikke all made their collegiate debuts on Tuesday. Clay and Freese-Vilien both scored their first collegiate points.
- Transfers Zion Morgan, Eron Gordon and Nick Robinson all saw action as well, bringing the total number of players who made their Valpo debuts on Tuesday to six.
Owning the Glass: Valpo pulled down 18 offensive rebounds, its highest total since also grabbing 18 on Dec. 20, 2017 at UC Riverside. The Brown & Gold were +10 on the offensive glass, permitting the Rockets to collect just eight offensive caroms.
Reversing Toledo Trends: Toledo went 21-1 in 2018-19 when holding opponents under 45 percent shooting, but Valpo managed a victory on Tuesday despite a 43.7 percent clip. The win came thanks in large part to a 40-39 advantage on the boards and 21-15 edge in the turnover category. The Rockets were 14-1 in 2018-19 when shooting 45 percent or higher, but dropped the opener in Valpo despite a shooting percentage of 49.1.
Eying 2-0: A victory over Saint Louis would allow Valpo to start the season with consecutive wins for the fourth time in the last five years and sixth time in the last eight. Valpo will look to nail down a win in its first true road game of the season for the second time in the last three years.
Inside the Billikens
- Enter the season as the defending Atlantic 10 Conference champions after going 23-13 including a 4-0 mark in the A10 Tournament a year ago. A 55-53 victory over St. Bonaventure in the A10 final sent the Billikens to the NCAA Tournament, where they fell 66-52 to Virginia Tech in the Round of 64.
- Started the season with an 89-67 home victory over Florida Gulf Coast. The Billikens used a 19-0 run in the first half and maintained a double-figure lead the rest of the way. Hasahn French had 20 points, three blocks and six rebounds, while Jordan Goodwin registered an 18-point, nine-rebound, three-steal output.
- Have made four NCAA Tournament appearances this decade.
- Hasahn French is on the verge of breaking the school record for blocked shots with 128 in his career. The school recordholder is Ian Vouyoukas at 135. French is a preseason second-team all-conference performer and a preseason all-defensive team choice.
- Jordan Goodwin was named to the preseason all-conference third team. He finished third on the team in scoring (10.5 ppg), second in rebounding (7.5 rpg) and first in steals (66) a year ago.
- The defending champs were picked to finish seventh in the 14-team Atlantic 10 this season.
- Head coach Travis Ford is in his fourth season and has led the team to improved win totals in each of his first three campaigns.
Starting Strong: Valpo is starting the season with back-to-back games against teams that reached either the NIT (Toledo) or the NCAA Tournament (Saint Louis) a year ago. This marks the first time since 1998-1999 that Valpo has opened the season with consecutive contests against teams that qualified for either the NCAA Tournament or NIT the year prior. Valpo opened the 1998-99 campaign at the NABC Classic in Indianapolis, picking up victories over South Carolina (NCAA previous season) and Seton Hall (NIT previous season). In addition, Valpo is the only team in the Missouri Valley Conference this season to play defending NCAA Tournament or NIT teams in each of its first two games.
Nonconference Highlights: Valpo’s nonconference schedule is highlighted by five opponents that qualified for the postseason last year. Here are a few of the opponents that highlight the 13-game docket that will lead into the start of Missouri Valley Conference action.
- Toledo (Nov. 5) went 25-8 last season including a 13-5 conference mark. The Rockets went to the NIT a year ago and have won back-to-back MAC West Division titles.
- Saint Louis (Nov. 9) has made four NCAA Tournament appearances in the last decade and went 23-13 in 2018-19 on its way to the Atlantic 10 Tournament title.
- Grand Canyon (Nov. 22) went 20-14 overall and 10-6 in the WAC last season, qualifying for the postseason with a CBI berth. The Lopes have reached the WAC title game and qualified for the postseason in each of their first two years as a Division-I postseason eligible team.
- Central Michigan (Dec. 8) enjoyed a 23-12 overall record and 10-8 MAC mark last season, winning two games in the MAC Tournament and qualifying for the CBI. The 23 victories tied the program’s highest total in 16 years.
- Arkansas (Dec. 21) will close out Valpo’s nonleague schedule in North Little Rock. The Razorbacks, members of the SEC, reached the second round of the NIT last season and finished 18-16 overall.
Wrapping Up Canada
- Valpo finished its four-game Canadian Foreign Tour from Aug. 10-14 with an unblemished mark after notching wins over McGill (84-78), Concordia (94-90), Carleton (83-80, OT) and the University of Quebec (81-68).
- Valpo battled from 90-80 down with 4:56 to play to top Concordia 94-90 in Montreal on Aug. 11 thanks to a game-closing 14-0 run.
- The highlight of the tour came on Aug. 13, when Winnipeg native Daniel Sackey drained a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to top Carleton 83-80 in overtime.
- Valpo stopped Canadian powerhouse Carleton’s 15-game winning streak against NCAA Division-I teams that included triumphs over USF, Ole Miss, Providence, Cincinnati, Vanderbilt and Alabama.
- The Sackey buzzer-beater was No. 9 on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays that evening.
- Javon Freeman-Liberty scored a team-high 18.8 points per game during the Canada journey, while Donovan Clay and Mileek McMillan shared the team lead by averaging 5.3 boards apiece. Sackey averaged 15.0 points per game during the trip.
- Javon Freeman-Liberty and Ryan Fazekas both earned All-MVC Second Team honors.
- They joined Tevonn Walker (2017) as the only Valpo players to be tabbed preseason all-MVC since joining the conference.
- The last time Valpo had multiple players on the preseason all-league first or second teams in the same season was 2016, when Alec Peters and Shane Hammink were first and second team Horizon League preseason picks, respectively.
- Valpo was picked to finish ninth in the preseason poll, based on a survey of the conference’s head coaches, sports information directors and media. Missouri State was named the preseason favorite.
Wrapping Up 2018-2019
- Valpo moved up two spots in the standings from Year 1 to Year 2 in the Missouri Valley Conference while also earning its first Arch Madness victory by beating Indiana State 77-55 in the opening round of the MVC Tournament.
- Valpo allowed 66.3 points per game, ranking 48th of 351 nationally in scoring defense.
- The team finished with 15 victories for the second straight season including nonconference triumphs over UNLV and George Washington. Valpo started 4-0 in Missouri Valley Conference play, but finished the year 15-18 overall and 7-11 in league action.
New Year, New Look
- Valpo has five returning letter winners after seven letter winners departed following the 2018-19 campaign.
- Valpo has 40.1 percent of its scoring and 35.7 percent of its rebounding back from last season.
- The five returning letter winners are Valpo’s fewest since the 2013-14 campaign, when Jordan Coleman, LaVonte Dority, Bobby Capobianco and Vashil Fernandez were the only players back from the previous season.
- Associate head coach Luke Gore is in his 18th year on staff and has served under four different head coaches. The Valpo veteran has helped the team to seven postseason berths in the last nine years and was on staff for the three winningest seasons in program history. He oversees the team’s post players.
- Assistant coach Rob Holloway is back for his second season after spending the previous two years on staff at Eastern Illinois, his alma mater.
- Assistant coach Matt Bowen returned to Valpo’s staff in 2018-19 after previously spending four seasons with the Brown & Gold from 2002-2006. He was the head coach at the University of Minnesota Duluth from 2012-2018.
- Director of Basketball Operations Jason Karys is in his first season in that capacity, but has been around the program in a variety of roles, spending two years as a graduate assistant, one as a walk-on player and three as a manager.
- Strength & Conditioning Coach Derek Bol is in his eighth season. He is a 2010 graduate of Iowa State.
- Graduate Assistant Peter Funk has taken that role after four years as an undergraduate manager.
- Athletic trainer Ken DeAngelis is in his first season full-time at Valpo after previously earning his master’s degree from the University in 2012 while spending two years as a graduate assistant athletic trainer.
Tradition of Excellence
- Valpo has 14 NCAA Tournament appearances and four NIT berths in the program’s proud history, with the team’s postseason success highlighted by a Sweet Sixteen run in 1998.
- The program has produced nine All-Americans, won 18 regular season conference championships and 10 conference tournament crowns.
- Valpo also boasts eight NBA players, 10 conference players of the year and 20 20-win seasons.
- Nine of the team’s NCAA appearances have come since 1996.
- Valpo has qualified for the postseason seven times in the last nine years, but enters 2019-20 seeking its first postseason tournament berth since playing in the NIT to conclude the 2016-17 season.
- Valpo has developed a myriad of professional basketball players over the last quarter century, most notably a pair of NBA players in the last three years.
- Ryan Broekhoff (class of 2013) signed a contract with the Dallas Mavericks in the summer of 2018 after spending five seasons playing internationally in Russia and Turkey.
- Broekhoff tallied a season-high 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the floor (3-5 3PT) in 22 minutes of action Jan. 5 in a 106-100 loss against Philadelphia. Broekhoff played in 42 games during the 2018-19 season.
- Alec Peters (class of 2017) was the 54th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft by the Phoenix Suns.
- Peters appeared in 20 games for the Suns in 2017-18, highlighted by a 36-point performance in the season finale against Dallas - a new single-game high by a Valpo alum in the NBA.
- Peters won a championship with CSKA Moscow in Russia in 2018-19. He signed a one-year contract with Anadolu Efes in Turkish BSL on July 9, 2019.
- 2018 Valpo graduate Tevonn Walker plays for Hamburg in German BBL. Walker’s classmate Max Joseph signed a contract with Nassjo Basket in Sweden following his time at Valpo.
- 2017 product Jubril Adekoya plays for Carramimbre CBC Valladolid in Spanish LEB Gold.
- Cory Johnson (2011) signed with Penarol in Argentina.
- Keith Carter, who rounded out his Valpo career in 2016, played in the 2019 NBA Summer League with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
- Valpo has now produced 50 pro basketball players over the last 25 years.
#0 Javon Freeman-Liberty, So. (Chicago, Ill.)
- Member of the 2018-19 MVC All-Freshman Team, 2018-19 MVC All-Defensive Team and 2019-20 MVC Preseason Second Team.
- Finished the 2018-19 season with 60 steals, the third most in single-season program history behind only Lubos Barton in 2001-02 and Scott Anselm in 1988-89.
- Accumulated 364 points in 2018-19, surpassing Bryce Drew’s freshman campaign for the fourth-most by a freshman in program history.
- Pulled down 142 rebounds in 2018-19, the fifth-most by a freshman in the history of the program.
- Joined Lubos Barton as one of just two rookies in program history with top five freshman marks in scoring, rebounding and steals.
- Became the first Valpo freshman to lead a conference in one of the five major statistical categories and the first Valpo player since at least 1982 to pace a conference in steals.
#1 Sigurd Lorange, Fr. (Trondheim, Norway)
- Before coming to Valpo, played for Gimle Basketball in the BLNO, Norway’s top professional basketball league.
- Helped lead Gimle to a league runner-up finish, averaging nearly 20 points and better than four assists.
- Averaged 17.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game for Norway at the U18s in 2018.
#2 Zion Morgan, R-Jr. (Chicago, Ill.)
- Previously played at UNLV (2016-17) and Wabash Valley College (2017-18 & 2018-19), leading the Warriors to a 25-8 record last season.
- Was teammates with Valpo’s Nick Robinson at Kenwood Academy in Chicago.
- Uncle Mardy Gilyard was a wide receiver at Cincinnati and was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
#3 Brock Pappas, So. (Valparaiso, Ind.)
- Nursing major who joined the program as a walk-on in 2018-19.
- Is a Valparaiso, Ind. native and a graduate of nearby Washington Township.
- Mother (Lisa) has worked on Valpo’s campus for 32 years, currently serving as an administrative assistant in the Department of Education. Brother (Bryce) and father (Steve) are both Valpo graduates, and his brother was named after Bryce Drew.
#4 Daniel Sackey, So. (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada)
- Made a buzzer-beater to upstage Canadian powerhouse Carleton in overtime in August, making an appearance on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays at No. 9 that evening.
- Has been a drummer since elementary school. The basement of his family’s home in Canada includes a small recording studio. He has a deep passion for music.
- Became just the sixth Manitoban to earn a scholarship in Division-I men’s basketball since the NCAA reorganized into its current competitive format in 1973.
#5 Donovan Clay, Fr. (Alton, Ill.)
- After senior year of high school: 4A First Team All-State, member of All-Metro First Team, honorable mention Associate Press All-State, Riverbend Boys Basketball Player of the Year, the Telegraph Large Schools Boys Basketball Player of the Year, named the “biggest sleeper” in the state of Illinois by the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Had a late growth spurt in high school, going from 6-foot-3 as a junior to 6-7 as a senior.
- Father Dexter, who is his role model, played college basketball at Rend Lake Junior College.
#10 Eron Gordon, R-Jr. (Indianapolis, Ind.)
- Joined the program in 2018-19 but sat out due to transfer rules. Appeared in 48 games over his two years at Seton Hall.
- Oldest brother Eric was the seventh pick of the 2008 NBA Draft and has played 11 seasons in the NBA. Father Eric is one of the Top 20 all-time scorers at Liberty. Brother Evan is playing in the CBA after scoring over 1,300 points at the Division-I level at Liberty, Arizona State and Indiana.
- Adds to Valpo’s recent history of NBA connections after Derrik Smits, Shane Hammink and Chandler Levingston Simon all had fathers who played in the NBA. Javon Freeman-Liberty’s uncle played in the NBA, while Valpo women’s basketball player Ella Ellenson is the brother of Henry.
#11 Emil Freese-Vilien, Fr. (Copenhagen, Denmark)
- Started playing basketball in November 2014 after playing badminton during his younger years.
- Played for Denmark at both the U16 and U18 FIBA Euro Championships in 2015 and 2017, respectively.
- Shortly before coming to Valpo, played for Vaerlose in the Danish Basketligaen, the highest professional league in Denmark.
#15 Luke Morrill, Fr. (Lombard, Ill.)
- Joined the program as a walk-on for the 2019-20 season.
- Graduate of Montini Catholic – also the alma mater of a pair of Valpo women’s basketball players, Ilysse Pitts and Zoe MacKay Zacker.
- Played his prep basketball under the late Daryl Thomas.
#22 Mileek McMillan, Jr. (Merrillville, Ind.)
- Saw action in 30 games as a sophomore after appearing in all 32 games as a freshman.
- Local to Northwest Indiana after playing his prep basketball for nearby Merrillville High School.
- Helped his Merrillville Pirates finish with a 22-2 record his junior year of high school.
#23 Ben Krikke, Fr. (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada)
- Competed for Team Canada at the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup in Argentina, averaging 9.9 points per game and 4.4 rebounds per game while helping Canada to a fourth-place finish.
- Credits his father’s Michael Jordan DVD set for helping him hone his skills. DVDs included Jordan’s greatest games, plays and Top 10 dunks.
- Was the MVP of the Alberta Basketball All-Star Showcase, scoring 37 points.
#25 Nick Robinson, R-Jr. (Chicago, Ill)
- Joined the program as a transfer in 2018-19 and sat out due to transfer rules after playing two seasons at Saint Joseph’s and appearing in 62 games, starting 30 times.
- High school teammate of Valpo’s Zion Morgan at Kenwood.
- Enjoys taking photos of nature in his spare time.
#33 John Kiser, Sr. (Noblesville, Ind.)
- Was a non-scholarship walk-on in 2016-17 as a freshman, but earned a scholarship following that season.
- Is the program’s longest-tenured player as the only member of the 2016-17 team still active at Valpo.
- The mechanical engineering major earned 2017-18 MVC Scholar-Athlete honorable mention.
#35 Ryan Fazekas, R-Sr. (Chesterton, Ind.)
- Graduated from nearby Marquette Catholic High School (Michigan City, Ind.) before beginning his collegiate career with two seasons at Providence.
- Sat out the 2017-18 season at Valpo and is now in his second season playing for the team. Member of this year’s Second Team Preseason All-MVC squad.
- Enters the season ranked second among active Valley players in career 3-point field goal percentage (minimum 30 attempts) at .432, behind only Loyola’s Cooper Kaifes.