A season that features the motto “One Team, One Boat” to exemplify the program’s unity had its most defining team win to date on Friday night as the seventh-seeded Valparaiso University men’s basketball team shocked second-seeded Loyola 74-73 in overtime in the quarterfinal round of the Missouri Valley Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament in St. Louis. Another theme of the season was a no-quit attitude, one that was on full display as Valpo trailed the Ramblers by as many as 18 before pulling off the improbable victory.
The two indelible plays of the team’s biggest win since joining The Valley came courtesy of senior Ryan Fazekas (Chesterton, Ind. / Marquette Catholic [Providence]) and redshirt junior Eron Gordon (Indianapolis, Ind. / Cathedral [Seton Hall]. It was Fazekas’ game-tying 3-pointer with 11 seconds left that helped the game reach overtime, then it was Gordon’s layup on a pass from John Kiser (Noblesville, Ind. / Noblesville) in the final seconds of OT that added to the list of March moments etched into the program’s proud past.
How It Happened
- Valpo held the lead for much of the first 10 minutes of the game. Fazekas swished a triple after a steal by Kiser on the other end of the court. That 3 made it 7-3 Valpo with 16:30 to go in the first half and marked Valpo’s first trey of the tournament.
- A 14-11 Valpo lead quickly turned into a 21-14 Loyola advantage as the Ramblers rattled off 10 straight points from the 11:26 mark to the 8:19 mark.
- Fazekas connected from distance for the second time in the game with 8:19 on the clock. Donovan Clay (Alton, Ill. / Alton) went up and snared an offensive rebound to create the second-chance triple, cutting Loyola’s lead to 21-17 with 8:19 left in the half.
- Clay followed with a layup that trimmed the gap to two, but the next big run for the Ramblers followed. Loyola scored 10 straight to open up a 12-point lead at 31-19 with 3:01 to go in the half. By the time the buzzer sounded to end the first 20 minutes, Loyola had expanded the cushion to 14. Loyola outscored Valpo 15-3 over the final 7:18 of the first half.
- Loyola had 11 free-throw attempts to Valpo’s one in the opening 20 minutes. The Ramblers did miss six of those 11 tries. Seniors Fazekas and Kiser combined for 11 of Valpo’s 22 points in the opening stanza.
- Valpo was within 11 with 17:13 to play in the second half, but Loyola scored seven straight capped by a 3 at the 15:44 mark to widen the lead to 18. Valpo responded with a 13-2 spurt that slimmed a 45-27 Loyola lead to 47-40.
- The Ramblers opened it back up to double figures at 53-42 at the 9:20 mark, and the lead fluctuated between seven and 11 for the next five minutes. Fazekas buried a 3 with 4:08 left in the second half to shrink the lead back to seven, but it was Daniel Sackey’s (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada / Thornlea) trey with 2:01 to go that finally whittled the margin to six. Valpo hadn’t been closer than seven since the 5:31 mark of the first half.
- With the Ramblers still up by six with 1:12 to go, Loyola missed the front end of a one-and-one. Javon Freeman-Liberty (Chicago, Ill. / Whitney Young) made a jumper to cut the lead to four, then Valpo benefited from another miss on the front end of a one-and-one. Valpo came up empty on a 3-point try with 33 seconds left, then Loyola made two free throws to move the lead back to six with 28 seconds on the clock.
- A step-back 3 by Kiser with 23 seconds to go put Valpo within three, then the Ramblers missed consecutive free throws. That set up a Fazekas game-tying 3 on an assist from his fellow senior Kiser with 11 seconds to go, creating a 68-all deadlock.
- Kiser made a huge defensive play to knock the ball away in the closing seconds, then Fazekas misfired on the potential buzzer-beater. Kiser hauled in the rebound and got fouled on the put-back with no time on the clock, but after replay review, it was ruled that time expired before the shot and the game would go to overtime.
- Loyola scored on its first possession of the extra session, then Freeman-Liberty looked poised to take over when he got a floater to go to again tie the score. However, the star sophomore fouled out with 3:52 to go in overtime, creating a moment where the team’s depth was put to the test.
- Loyola inched ahead on a free throw with 3:52 to go in OT, and it stayed 71-70 Ramblers until Clay drove in and scored with 1:39 on the clock. Loyola wrestled the lead back with 13 seconds remaining thanks to a pair of free throws. That set up the Gordon basket on a Kiser assist with three seconds to play, and Valpo forced a deep, contested 3 that was off the mark, cementing the upset.
Inside the Game
- Valpo has advanced to the semifinals of Arch Madness for the first time since joining the league.
- Entering Friday, only one team had advanced to the semifinal round after playing in the opening round of the MVC Tournament since the event went to its current format in 1997. The only time it occurred was Bradley in 1998. On Friday, it happened twice with eighth-seeded Drake knocking off top-seeded UNI in addition to Valpo’s victory over Loyola.
- This is the first time in Arch Madness history the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds both lost in the quarterfinal round. It also snaps a streak of 21 straight years that the No. 7 seed lost in the quarterfinal round.
- The comeback kids made their greatest comeback yet as Valpo erased a double-figure deficit to win for the 15th time in Matt Lottich’s four-year tenure as Valpo head coach and the sixth time this season. Valpo has only been on the other end (losing a 10-point lead in a defeat) once during Lottich’s tenure.
- Friday’s 18-point comeback edged a 17-point rally earlier this year at Illinois State as the largest deficit Valpo has erased this season. It marked the team’s largest comeback since Jan. 17, 2012 vs. Detroit Mercy.
- Valpo played in its fourth overtime game of the season and improved to 2-2 in such contests. This was Valpo’s first overtime conference tournament game since March 7, 2016, a 99-92 upset loss vs. Green Bay in a Horizon League semifinal in the season that ended with Valpo playing in the NIT Championship game.
- This was the first time this season Valpo played in a game decided by a single point. Valpo last had a game dictated by the slimmest of margins in a 55-54 OT loss on Jan. 29, 2019 vs. Missouri State.
- Valpo defeated Loyola for the first time since joining the Valley, snapping a seven-game head-to-head skid to the Ramblers. Loyola won this year’s regular season meetings by a total of five points over two games and the three matchups this season were decided by a grand total of six points. This was Valpo’s first win over Loyola since the final meeting when the two schools shared Horizon League affiliation, an 85-76 Valpo win in Chicago.
- Four Valpo players finished in double figures, led by Fazekas with 15 including five 3s. He has knocked down five 3s in three of his last five games. The senior is shooting 63 percent (17-of-27) from 3 during that five-game stretch.
- Sackey finished with 13 points, reaching double figures for the third time in the last four games after eight straight in single figures. He scored six points total in the six games leading into Feb. 25 at Missouri State, and has averaged 11.0 points per game over four games since.
- Sackey tied a career high with six rebounds against the Ramblers, his first game with six boards since doing so in back-to-back contests in the U.S. Virgin Islands in November against Grand Canyon and Nevada.
- Kiser did everything in his power to will his team to victory on Friday. He went 5-of-9 shooting on his way to a 12-point, eight-rebound effort. His point total equaled a career high that was set on Jan. 18 of this season vs. Indiana State.
- Clay threatened a triple-double with 10 points, eight rebounds and seven assists while also grabbing a steal and swatting three shots. The seven assists represented a career high, shattering his previous mark of six on Feb. 22 vs. Bradley. The three blocks also equaled a personal watermark (Feb. 15 at Illinois State) and the eight rebounds were one shy of his career best, nine on Jan. 7 vs. Southern Illinois.
- After scoring in double figures in all 29 regular-season games, Freeman-Liberty was limited to single figures for the second consecutive contest at Arch Madness. The star sophomore missed the final two games of the regular season while battling mononucleosis. He scored six points before fouling out on Friday.
- Freeman-Liberty boosted his career total to 575 points, in the process shattering Alec Peters’ single-season record for points by a sophomore (569, 2014-15). Freeman-Liberty also cracked the Top 10 in program history for points in a season, currently ranking eighth. He climbed over both Peters’ 2014-15 season and Dan Oppland’s 2005-06 season on Friday.
- Valpo is two wins away from recording the 21st 20-win season in program history. Friday’s victory also allowed Valpo to clinch an overall winning record in 2019-20.
Valpo (18-15, 9-9) will clash with Missouri State (16-16, 9-9) at 5 p.m. on Saturday in the second of two Arch Madness semifinals. The two teams finished tied for sixth in the MVC regular-season standings. Saturday’s game will be nationally televised on CBS Sports Network. Coverage links will be posted on ValpoAthletics.com.