The Valparaiso University men’s basketball team fought through bumps and bruises on Saturday night to fend off the visiting Indiana State Sycamores 86-77 at the Athletics-Recreation Center. Javon Freeman-Liberty (Chicago, Ill. / Whitney Young) poured in 25 points to lead five Valpo players in double figures, as a true team effort helped the Brown & Gold withstand the loss of three key players due to injuries and two more starters spending a chunk of the first half sidelined. Valpo dipped back into its old bag of comeback tricks, erasing a double-figure deficit en route to the victory.
How It Happened
- Valpo struggled out of the gate, falling behind 10-2 in the first four minutes. Freeman-Liberty knocked in a step-back jumper with 15:13 left in the first half, then Donovan Clay (Alton, Ill. / Alton) followed with a triple that cut the lead to three.
- Already playing without three potential starters who were in street clothes due to injuries, Valpo faced several additional challenges during the first half. Both Freeman-Liberty and Eron Gordon (Indianapolis, Ind. / Cathedral [Seton Hall]) spent time in the locker room after being banged up, but both returned to the court before the end of the half.
- John Kiser (Noblesville, Ind. / Noblesville) cut the lead to three with a 3-pointer at the 13:03 mark, but Indiana State eventually widened the cushion to 11 at 32-21 with 6:12 to go in the half. A 9-2 spurt helped Valpo shrink the gap, and by halftime the hosts had whittled the lead to three at 35-32. Gordon made a pair of baskets late in the half, capping a gutty effort to keep it close by a team ravaged by injuries and obstacles in the opening 20 minutes.
- Valpo came out of the locker room looking refreshed and refocused, wrestling the lead away for the first time as Gordon knocked in a trey with 17:47 left in the second half to make it 42-41. Valpo scored 16 points in the first 5:14 of the half, racing out to a 48-44 lead by the 14:46 mark.
- The Sycamores (10-7, 3-3) scored the next four points to tie the game, but Valpo inched the lead back to six when Ben Krikke (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada / Jasper Place) laid one in with 11:24 remaining. The lead continued to fluctuate between one and six until the Sycamores tied the game at 60 with 8:36 on the clock. Indiana State followed with a basket to take a brief 62-60 lead, then led again at 64-62.
- Kiser nailed another clutch trey at the 5:38 mark, putting the Brown & Gold up one. That led to a huge 8-0 run that allowed Valpo to take a six-point edge with 4:12 to play. Freeman-Liberty converted a 3 with 1:30 on the clock to make it 79-71, but Indiana State quickly jumped back to within three.
- Leading by four with nine seconds to go, Valpo dialed up a home-run ball, as Kiser chucked it to Freeman-Liberty for the fastbreak basket. Freeman-Liberty stole the inbounds with two seconds to go and slammed home a dunk with 0.3 on the clock, putting the final exclamation mark on a memorable win.
Inside the Game
- Kiser finished with a career-high 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting while sharing the team lead with eight rebounds. His previous career high was nine points, reached on six occasions, but this marked the first time the senior cracked double figures in his collegiate career.
- Freeman-Liberty finished with 25 points to lead all scorers. It was his 19th consecutive double-figure scoring output, his 11th game with 20 points or more this season and his sixth time this year scoring 25+ points. It was the highest home scoring output of his career as his previous six games (five this season, one last season) of more than 25 points all came on the road.
- Freeman-Liberty also grabbed eight rebounds while swiping two steals and dishing out three assists, tying for the team lead in all three of the aforementioned categories.
- Valpo has had four or more players in double figures in back-to-back games. Saturday marked the team’s first time with five players in double figure since Nov. 27 vs. Trinity Christian.
- Mileek McMillan (Merrillville, Ind. / Merrillville) scored 11 points for the second straight game, entering double figures for the sixth time this season.
- Despite suffering a cut to the head and playing much of the game with a bandage, Gordon poured in 14 points, his sixth double-figure output. He wore the blood jersey of No. 20 after returning to the court following his cut.
- Clay finished with 18 points, bouncing back in a big way from his scoreless effort on Wednesday at UNI. The freshman has scored 18 points or more in all three of his Missouri Valley Conference home games.
- Valpo improved to 7-1 when shooting 70 percent or better at the free-throw line, going 18-of-22 at the stripe for 81.8 percent. The team knocked down all 12 second-half free throws on the way to the win.
- Valpo won the rebounding battle 38-28 but lost the turnover battle 11-7. Valpo scored 21 points on fastbreaks to Indiana State’s five.
- Zion Morgan (Chicago, Ill. / Kenwood [Wabash Valley / UNLV]) and Gordon both made their first career starts, and neither disappointed. The JUCO transfer squeezed six rebounds in 18 minutes of work, also handing out a pair of assists and grabbing a steal.
- This marked the third time this season Valpo came from double-figures down to win. The Brown & Gold trailed this one by 11 with 6:12 to go in the first half. The team previously overcame a 14-point deficit to beat Toledo and a 10-point hole to top SIUE. In Matt Lottich’s head coaching tenure (four years) this was already the 11th time the team has trailed by double figures and won. In addition, Valpo has come from double figures down to at least tie or take the lead six times this year.
Valpo (10-9, 3-3) will compete in its first nationally-televised game of the season on Thursday night in Springfield, Mo. The Brown & Gold will battle MVC preseason favorite Missouri State with the tip slated for 7:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network. This will be the final time this season Valpo has four full days between games.