The Valparaiso University men’s basketball team attempted to claw its way out of an early 10-point hole on Monday evening in Charlotte, N.C., but the host 49ers prevailed 67-57 at Halton Arena. Freshman Donovan Clay (Alton, Ill. / Alton) boasted his fourth straight double-figure output, while sophomore Javon Freeman-Liberty (Chicago, Ill. / Whitney Young) finished as the team’s leading scorer for the eighth time in the last nine games.
How It Happened
- After a Clay triple provided the first points of the game, Charlotte embarked on a 13-0 run to build up a double-figure edge with 15:08 left in the first half.
- Turnovers hurt Valpo in the early going, as Charlotte took it away seven times in the first six minutes and eight times in the first 7:25.
- The 49ers led 18-8 with 12:49 to play until halftime, but a quick 7-0 run for the Brown & Gold trimmed the deficit to three. Clay’s second trey of the night sparked the spurt, and when Mileek McMillan (Merrillville, Ind. / Merrillville) drained a jumper with 10:12 to go in the half, it was suddenly 18-15 in favor of Charlotte.
- The Charlotte lead fluctuated between three and seven for the remainder of the half. On two occasions, Freeman-Liberty connected on 3-pointers to whittle the deficit to three, including at 33-30 with 1:59 left in the half. The 49ers went into the break holding a five-point edge.
- Quality 3-point shooting in the opening half helped Valpo stay close, as the team hit six of its 12 tries from distance. The team shot 50 percent for the half, but turned it over 11 times and had no made free throws (0-for-2) to Charlotte’s eight (8-for-9).
- Valpo had the deficit at three at 46-43 with 12:55 to play in the second half, but over the next four minutes the 49ers outscored their guests 10-2 to open up their largest lead at 56-45 with 8:43 to go.
- The Brown & Gold quickly got it back down to five, but the margin again reached 11 with 2:39 to play. Valpo was still in the game with 1:39 on the clock at 63-57, but a 3-point try that would have cut the lead to one possession rimmed out and Charlotte (5-4) made the final push to secure the win.
- Valpo struggled to hit shots after halftime, as the team was held to 2-of-11 (18.2 percent) from beyond the arc.
Inside the Game
- Freeman-Liberty scored a team-high 17 points after having previously scoring 19 points or more in each of his first nine games against Division-I opponents this season. Charlotte’s Jordan Shepherd led all scorers with a career-high 27 points.
- Clay achieved his fourth consecutive double-figure scoring output, posting 11 points, six rebounds and four assists. He knocked down three 3-pointers and blocked a pair of shots. It was his first career multi-block effort and the first time in his young career he hit multiple 3-pointers in a game. He equaled his career high in the assist area with his third four-helper affair.
- John Kiser (Noblesville, Ind. / Noblesville) accrued nine points and seven rebounds, matching a personal best in the scoring column. The senior has scored nine points on five occasions including four this season, but has yet to crack double figures. His points came on an efficient 4-of-6 shooting. Kiser was the team’s top rebounder for the fourth time this season.
- McMillan contributed nine points on 4-of-7 shooting.
- Valpo blocked five shots for the second straight game, matching a season high.
- Valpo held a 29-28 rebounding edge, marking its first loss this season when outrebounding the opponent after previously holding a 5-0 record when winning the battle on the boards.
- This marked the first time this season Valpo held an opponent under 80 points and lost as Valpo was previously 6-0 when holding opponents to 79 points or fewer and 0-4 when allowing 80 or more.
Valpo (6-5) will stay in the state of North Carolina for the middle game of a three-game road trip on Wednesday night at High Point. The game will tip at 6 p.m. CT and will be broadcast on ESPN+ in addition to 95.1 FM Valparaiso.