The Valparaiso University men’s basketball players had their mental focus put to the test on Wednesday night at the Athletics-Recreation Center, taking the court after a late-night return that capped a full Tuesday of travel back from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Head coach Matt Lottich’s team passed that test with flying colors, dispatching visiting Trinity Christian College 98-71 with five players finishing in double figures and the team handing out 29 assists.
How It Happened
- Valpo (5-3) faced an early 7-2 hole after the Trolls (5-6) ran off seven points in a row. However, Javon Freeman-Liberty (Chicago, Ill. / Whitney Young) tied it at nine with a triple at the 16:38 mark, then had a steal and a score to put Valpo in front 11-9. The hosts wouldn’t relinquish the lead the rest of the way.
- Just before halftime, Valpo made a nice run that helped turn the lead into a comfortable one at the break. The Brown & Gold scored eight straight, all by the freshman duo of Donovan Clay (Alton, Ill. / Alton) and Ben Krikke (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada / Jasper Place), to turn a 40-32 lead with 4:35 left in the half to a 48-32 cushion by the 2:16 mark. The edge was 48-34 at the half.
- The lead continued to grow as Valpo scored six straight early in the second half. Freeman-Liberty pushed the edge to 19 with a 3-pointer at the 16:50 mark, and later Krikke had a steal and fast-break layup that upped the margin to 23.
- After Krikke completed a three-point play with 4:38 remaining to make it 88-64, walk-ons Brock Pappas (Valparaiso, Ind. / Washington Township) and Luke Morrill (Lombard, Ill. / Montini Catholic) made their Valpo debuts. Morrill later made a pair of free throws and converted a layup for his first collegiate points and basket, respectively.
Inside the Game
- Valpo handed out 29 assists on 38 made baskets, led by Zion Morgan (Chicago, Ill. / Kenwood [Wabash Valley/UNLV]) with five. It was the team’s highest assist total since also dishing out 29 on Nov. 12, 2010. The Valpo record for assists in a game is 36 on Nov. 28, 2005 vs. IU South Bend.
- Three freshmen were among the five Valpo players in double figures with Krikke (18), Clay (16) and Lorange (11) all setting career highs in scoring. In fact, a fourth freshman hit a career watermark as Emil Freese-Vilien (Copenhagen, Denmark / Falkonergardens Gymnasium) chipped in four points.
- Six newcomers established career highs in scoring as the rookie quartet was joined by transfers Morgan (7) and Eron Gordon (10). Technically, Morrill was a seventh newcomer with a career high in scoring as he finished with four points in his debut.
- Valpo shot a season-best 54.3 percent, the team’s top mark since shooting 56.3 percent last season against Purdue Northwest.
- Clay also hit a rebounding career high with eight to lead the team, while John Kiser (Noblesville, Ind. / Noblesville) squeezed five boards. Five Valpo players had four or more assists.
- Valpo used its speed and athleticism to dominate the transition battle, outscoring the Trolls 33-2 on fast breaks.
Valpo will enjoy a few days off for Thanksgiving before beginning preparation for Tuesday’s game at Eastern Michigan, which begins at 6 p.m. CT and will be broadcast on ESPN3.