The Valparaiso University men’s basketball team held first-place UNI to its lowest point total in Missouri Valley Conference play this season, but the hosts couldn’t produce enough offense to knock off the Panthers on Wednesday night at the Athletics-Recreation Center. UNI, a team receiving votes nationally in the USA Today and AP polls, picked up its 20th win of the season thanks to a 63-51 triumph, sending Valpo to just its second home loss of the year.
How It Happened
- After an early 2-2 tie, UNI (20-3, 9-2) rattled off seven straight points to quickly mount an 11-point lead. The Panthers owned a double-figure edge for the remainder of the opening half, pushing the gap to 20 at 29-9 with 3:26 remaining.
- Valpo went on a 10-2 spurt to cut the lead to 12, but UNI knocked in a 3 at the buzzer going into halftime to build it back to 15.
- Valpo was held to 25.8 percent shooting and 1-of-11 from 3 in the first half. The Panthers made six 3s to Valpo’s one in the opening 20 minutes.
- Valpo outscored UNI 32-29 after the break, but couldn’t overcome the early hole. The Brown & Gold had the lead down to 10 at 37-27 early in the second half and again later in the half at 54-44 after a Ryan Fazekas (Chesterton, Ind. / Marquette Catholic [Providence]) trey with 6:11 to go. However, the hosts could never push to within single figures.
- The second half saw Valpo get to the foul line 17 times after attempting just four free throws in the first half. The team took care of the basketball after the break, turning it over just twice over the game’s final 20 minutes.
- UNI’s A.J Green exploded for 14 points in the second half after being held to five in the opening period, while Valpo’s Javon Freeman-Liberty (Chicago, Ill. / Whitney Young) also poured in 14 after halftime after being held scoreless through 20 minutes.
Inside the Game
- Freeman-Liberty’s big second half allowed him to finish with 14 points and eight rebounds, holding the team lead in scoring and tying for the team’s top spot on the boards with Donovan Clay (Alton, Ill. / Alton). Freeman-Liberty has been in double figures in all 24 games this season.
- Clay’s eight-rebound effort marked the sixth time in the last 10 games he’s had seven rebounds or more. He reached the seven-rebound mark just once over his first 14 games and it was against an NAIA opponent.
- Daniel Sackey (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada / Thornlea) had five rebounds and a team-high five assists. It was his highest assist total since handing out nine on Dec. 18 at High Point.
- Fazekas finished in double figures with 12 points, his third double-figure outing of the year and second in the last three games. (He missed 17 games with an injury.) He accounted for two of the team’s three makes from beyond the 3-point arc.
- Valpo committed just nine turnovers in the game, the third time this season the turnover total has been in single figures. The team made a season-low eight turnovers in a win over Evansville on Jan. 26 and also committed just nine in a Dec. 18 victory at High Point. This was the fewest turnovers Valpo committed in a setback since Dec. 4, 2018 vs. High Point.
- The 63 points were the fewest allowed by Valpo in the last seven games and tied with the Jan. 7 game at Southern Illinois for the fewest allowed in a defeat this season.
- Valpo held UNI to just 37.7 percent shooting, the fourth time this season and the second straight game Valpo has limited the opposition to under 40 percent from the field. By a strange coincidence, Valpo has heled each of its last two opponents to exactly 23-of-61 (37.7 percent) shooting.
- The shooting percentage of 37.7 was UNI’s lowest in the last nine games and the team’s third-lowest clip of the season. The 63 points was the lowest total for the Panthers since a 60-55 loss to West Virginia on Nov. 26. Only West Virginia, Old Dominion and Valpo have held UNI to 63 points or fewer in a game this season. The squad entered Wednesday averaging 77.4 points per game.
- This is the first time Valpo has held the opponent under 40 percent shooting in consecutive games since Jan. 8, 2019 (vs. Bradley) and Jan. 12, 2019 (at Southern Illinois).
- The 12-point margin of defeat was Valpo’s largest on its home floor since Dec. 17, 2018, a 77-61 loss to Ball State. Valpo last lost a home conference game by 12 or more on Jan. 21, 2018 vs. Loyola.
- Valpo continued its trend of winning every other game, a streak that has lasted through the first 11 conference games. This is the first time since at least 1982 when Valpo joined the Association of Mid-Continent Universities that the team has not had back-to-back losses or back-to-back wins in the first 11 games of the conference slate.
Valpo (12-12, 5-6) will compete in a nationally-televised matchup with Loyola on Sunday at 3 p.m. at Gentile Arena in Chicago. The game will air on ESPNU.