The Valparaiso University men’s basketball team came from 14 points down with 7:54 remaining to create an opportunity to tie or take the lead on the game’s final possession, but host Loyola escaped with a 70-68 victory on Sunday afternoon at Gentile Arena in Chicago. Four Valpo starters scored 13 points or more in Valpo’s tightest matchup with the Ramblers since joining the Missouri Valley Conference.
How It Happened
- The game was close from the outset, as Mileek McMillan (Merrillville, Ind. / Merrillville) nailed a game-tying triple to make it 10-10 with 15:32 to go in the first half. A 17-all tie was snapped by the second traditional 3-point play of the day for freshman Ben Krikke (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada / Jasper Place), who got the hoop and the harm to put his team up 20-17 with 10:48 on the clock.
- Freshman Donovan Clay (Alton, Ill. / Alton) tied the game at 24 with a jumper with 6:18 to go in the half, but the Ramblers followed with a 7-0 run. The Brown & Gold fought to within four by the break and went into halftime trailing 39-35.
- Loyola charged out of the gates with seven straight points to start the second half, upping the lead to 11 at 46-35. McMillan connected on a 3-ball at the 16:08 mark to get Valpo on the board after halftime.
- The Rambler lead was 14 with 7:54 to go in the game and 13 at 68-55 with 6:03 remaining. That’s when Valpo put together an 8-0 run that featured 3s by McMillan and Clay, the second of which cut the margin to five at 68-63 with 4:29 to play.
- John Kiser (Noblesville, Ind. / Noblesville) converted a timely 3 with 1:46 left to trim the margin to three, then Freeman-Liberty’s jumper with 40 seconds to go made it 69-68. With the team down 70-68 with 11 seconds remaining, Valpo had one final possession to tie or take the lead. However, Marquise Kennedy came up with a steal on the final play of the night, and the ball rolled into the Valpo backcourt as time expired.
Inside the Game
- Javon Freeman-Liberty (Chicago, Ill. / Whitney Young) had a pair of first-half steals to bump Bryce Drew’s 1997-98 season (53) out of the program’s single-season Top 10 for steals. Drew was previously the program’s only player in the single-season Top 10 in both scoring and steals, something Freeman-Liberty hopes to accomplish by season’s end.
- Freeman-Liberty had his ninth game of the season with three steals or more, finishing with four, one shy of a career high. It was his sixth game this season with four steals or more.
- Freeman-Liberty finished the day tied for seventh in program history in single-season steals with 56. He’s currently even with Stalin Ortiz’s 2002-03 season for seventh. He’s just seven steals away from tying the program’s single-season record, which was set by Lubos Barton (63) in 2001-02.
- Clay dunked for the second straight game, lifting his season total to 10. He’s two behind Freeman-Liberty for the team lead. Freeman-Liberty had his 12th on Sunday.
- McMillan knocked in multiple 3s in a game for the sixth time this year, all in conference play. The Valpo forward has hit multiple 3s in six of his last 11 games after not doing so at all in his first 13 games of the season. He finished with four triples, topping his previous personal best of three. McMillan scored a team-high 14 points in just 16 minutes of action before fouling out.
- Robinson had his third game with seven assists or more this season, finishing with a career-high nine. He became the second Valpo player with a nine-assist game this year, joining Daniel Sackey on Dec. 18 at High Point. He was the first Valpo player with nine helpers in a conference game since Micah Bradford on Jan. 13, 2018 at UNI.
- Valpo used a new-look lineup as Robinson started for the first time since Jan. 15 at UNI. Four of Valpo’s five starters finished with 13 points or more, and the fifth was Robinson, who was busy handing out assists.
- Freeman-Liberty, Clay and Ryan Fazekas (Chesterton, Ind. / Marquette Catholic [Providence]) scored 13 points apiece to join McMillan in double figures. This marked Freeman-Liberty’s 25th straight game with 10 points or more. Freeman-Liberty and Clay shared team leadership in rebounds with five each.
- Valpo knocked down 11 3-pointers in the game, the team’s highest total since Jan. 4 at Evansville (12).
- Loyola (16-9, 8-4) extended its head-to-head winning streak against Valpo to seven, but this was the closest matchup between the two teams since Valpo joined The Valley. The Ramblers won 71-54 in last year’s Gentile Arena meeting. This year, both regular season matchups were dictated by three points or fewer.
- Valpo has incurred back-to-back losses for the first time in conference play. The team had traded off wins and losses through the first 11 MVC games, the first time since at least 1982 when Valpo joined the Association of Mid-Continent Universities that Valpo did not have consecutive wins or consecutive losses in the first 11 league contests.
- This was Valpo’s fifth game of the season decided by three points or fewer and fourth decided by two points or fewer. Valpo is 3-2 this year in games decided by three points or fewer, with both losses coming against the Ramblers.
Valpo (12-13, 5-7) will return home on Wednesday to conclude a home-heavy stretch that has featured three of four at the ARC and four straight games without a hotel stay. Southern Illinois will provide the opposition for a contest that tips off at 7 p.m. on ESPN+.