The talented frontcourt tandem of Ben Krikke (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada / Jasper Place) and Mileek McMillan (Merrillville, Ind. / Merrillville) was on full display in the season opener on Friday night, but the Valparaiso University men’s basketball team came up shy in a 77-71 setback against Southeastern Conference opponent Vanderbilt at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville. Valpo led by five with under six minutes remaining, but an 11-0 run by the host Commodores proved pivotal in a game of bursts.
How It Happened
- Valpo committed five turnovers in the first five minutes of the game, including one on each of the first three possessions of the contest. However, the team rectified its early issues with giveaways, handing it over just three times in the final 15 minutes of the opening half.
- After facing early deficits of 5-0 and 8-3, Valpo tied the game at eight on a triple by Nick Robinson (Chicago, Ill. / Kenwood [Saint Joseph’s] with 13:33 to go in the half, then took the lead when Sigurd Lorange (Trondheim, Norway / Metis Videregaende Skole) connected from distance on the next Valpo possession to make it 11-8.
- Jacob Ognacevic (Sheboygan, Wis. / Sheboygan Area Lutheran) got in on the 3-point act with his first collegiate basket with 10:37 to go in the half to snap an 11-all tie.
- The Commodores went on their first big run of the game following a go-ahead basket by McMillan with 7:55 left in the half. Nine straight points turned an 18-16 Valpo lead into a seven-point edge for the hosts with 6:05 left in the half.
- Valpo made a key push late in the first half, rattling off nine straight in the final 2:12. McMillan drained a pair of 3s during the run, including a bullseye in the final seconds of the half to tie the game at 34 going into the break.
- Krikke was aggressive early in the second half, scoring six points in the first four minutes to help Valpo to a 42-38 edge.
- Vandy owned a 50-43 lead with 13:51 remaining, but Daniel Sackey (Winnipeg, Maniba, Canada / Thornlea) flashed his speed and distributing ability to ignite a 12-0 run. Krikke remained key during that run, while McMillan hit a go-ahead 3 with 12:02 left in the game. Sackey’s fastbreak basket with 11:27 to go put Valpo up five.
- Valpo still led by five with 6:52 remaining following another basket by Krikke, but that’s when the Commodores hit big shots and strung together stops on the defensive end to turn a five-point deficit into a six-point lead at 65-59 with 3:38 to go.
- The hosts opened up their first double-figure lead in the final minute of the contest, but Valpo scratched back to within six with help from a late triple by Donovan Clay (Alton, Ill. / Alton).
Inside the Game
- McMillan led the way with 18 points, two shy of his career best of 20 that came on Feb. 19 of last season at Drake.
- After attempting just one shot in the opening half, Krikke scored all 13 of his points after halftime.
- Clay finished with 14 points to go along with five boards, while Eron Gordon (Indianapolis, Ind. / Cathedral [Seton Hall]) squeezed a team-high eight rebounds, shattering his previous career watermark of five reached on three occasions last season. This marked the first time in Gordon’s Valpo career that he paced the squad on the glass.
- Sackey put together a balanced line of six points, five rebounds and six assists. It was the first time in the junior point guard’s collegiate career that he had five or more in all three categories in the same game. He also swiped four steals, equalling a career high that he had most recently achieved on Dec. 3 of last season.
- Edwards became the seventh Valpo freshman in the last 20 years to start the season opener, joining a list that also includes Alec Peters, Javon Freeman-Liberty, Tevonn Walker, Erik Buggs, DeAndre Haskins and Parker Hazen.
- Valpo fell to 0-3 all-time against Vandy, but all three matchups have been decided by fewer than 10 points. The Brown & Gold are 4-15 all-time against current SEC members.
- The defeat snapped a streak of eight straight season-opening victories. However, it was the first time Valpo had opened on the road since its last season-opening defeat, 73-64 at No. 16 Arizona to start the 2011-12 campaign.
- This was the latest season opener since the 1994-95 season, which also tipped off on Nov. 27.
- One key disparity came at the free-throw line, where Valpo went 4-of-8 and Vandy went 23-of-27. Vanderbilt’s Scottie Pippen, Jr. made all 14 of his free throws and finished with a game-high 25 points.
- Valpo knocked down seven of its 15 3-point attempts in the first half, but went just 4-of-20 (20 percent) from distance after the break.
- Edwards, Ognacevic and Connor Barrett (Chicago Ill. / Loyola Academy) all made their collegiate debuts, while Goodnews Kpegeol (St. Paul, Minn. / North [Southwest Mississippi CC / Kansas State]) also made his first Valpo appearance.
Thoughts from Head Coach Matt Lottich
“It felt amazing to be back on the floor. Playing felt very normal, and that’s something we’re all looking for at this time. We’ve had six practices before this game as a full team, so there was a little bit of rust. We have to try to make sure we don’t let one loss turn into two and make sure we get better with each game. One of our goals is to be a better rebounding team this year, and they beat us by 10 on the glass. We had a high assist total, but also a high turnover total. We had some jitters to start this game. Ben did a good job of being patient and letting the game come to him. He was unstoppable for a stretch in the second half. There is some expectation that you’re going to turn it over in your first live action, but we have to take better care of the ball going forward.”
Valpo (0-1) will continue a stretch of three straight road games on Tuesday night with a quick trip over the state line to battle UIC. The matchup tips at 6 p.m. on ESPN3 and on 95.1 FM Valparaiso, WVUR. Links to live coverage will be available on ValpoAthletics.com.