A night that started with a focus on the past ended with an emphasis on the future for the Valparaiso University men’s basketball program.
Roger Powell Jr. took a moment to reflect on the past during the national anthem at the State Farm Center in Champaign, Ill. The first year Valpo head coach’s first road game at the helm of a program happened to come at Illinois against a Fighting Illini team that he helped take to the 2005 national championship game during his career as a player.
But once the ball was tipped, it was all about the present, and when the game was all said and done, the prevailing storyline was about the future. Valpo gave No. 23 Illinois a scare, leading 45-38 after holding the lead for the entirety of the first 20 minutes. The Fighting Illini turned it around after halftime and pulled away to win 87-64, but the final score didn’t diminish the opening half, which showcased where this program – currently featuring youth and inexperience – is headed in the future.
How It Happened
- The Valpo lead was 5-4 three minutes into the game, then the Beacons reeled off eight straight points with a made 3-pointer by Isaiah Stafford (Bolingbrook, Ill. / Crispus Attucks [John A. Logan / Southern Indiana) following an offensive rebound extending the possession, and eventually extending the lead to 13-4.
- The Illini closed to within three on a triple by Luke Goode at the 13:45 mark, but the game’s next basket was another Stafford trey to double the lead back to six at 18-12.
- Illinois clawed to within three, but Jerome Palm (Almere, Netherlands / Echnaton [Hillsborough CC]) and Cooper Schwieger (Overland Park, Kan. / Blue Valley Southwest [Link Year]) had buckets to up the gap to seven.
- The Illini had closed to within two at 24-22 by the 7:18 mark, but then Jahari Williamson (Pickering, Ontario, Canada / Royal Crown Academy) nailed back-to-back contested 3s to boost the lead back to eight. Stafford corralled a rebound and notched a fastbreak layup to bolster the lead to 10, forcing an Illinois timeout.
- Stafford drilled another big 3 with 1:06 left in the half to make it 43-36, then added another hoop with 35 ticks on the clock to make it 45-36. Valpo went into the break leading by seven at 45-38.
- Schwieger had a big 3-point play early in the second half to help Valpo stem the tide and build the lead back to six at 51-45, but Illinois scored the next seven points to take the lead at 52-51.
- A dunk by Palm seesawed the lead back in Valpo’s favor, but then Luke Goode made consecutive 3s to help Illinois pad the lead to five. The Illini would not look back, leading the rest of the way and in total outscoring Valpo 49-19 after halftime. Illinois went on a 10-0 run at the midway mark of the half.
Inside the Game
- Stafford scored 30 points to lead all scorers, finishing one point shy of a career high that he achieved on Feb. 26, 2022 while playing at Southern Indiana vs. Lindenwood. This was the most points scored by a Beacon since Ben Krikke had 34 at UIC on Feb. 19 of last season.
- Stafford joins Krikke (3x), Javon Freeman-Liberty (twice), Bakari Evelyn, Alec Peters (10x) and LaVonte Dority (twice) as the only Valpo players in the last decade with a 30-point game.
- Stafford had the most points scored by a non-power conference opponent against Illinois since Ohio’s Jason Preston in 2020.
- Edwards pulled down 15 rebounds, the most by a Valpo player since Ben Krikke on Jan. 24, 2021 at Illinois State. Edwards tied with Krikke and Javon Freeman-Liberty for the most rebounds by a Valpo player since Alec Peters had 16 on Jan. 16, 2017 vs. Green Bay.
- Palm posted a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds, establishing a new personal best in the scoring column. His previous career high was 11 set last season at Belmont and matched this year vs. Trinity Christian. This was Valpo’s first double-double since Krikke at UIC on Feb. 19 of last season.
- Valpo turned the ball over just seven times, the team’s second straight game with seven or fewer.
- Valpo blocked seven shots and has blocked at least six in every game this season.
- Valpo was seeking its first-ever true road win against an AP Top-25 opponent and led by seven at halftime. The program fell to 0-43 all-time on the road against nationally-ranked foes, with three of the program’s four ranked wins coming at home and one on a neutral floor.
Thoughts from Head Coach Roger Powell
“Credit those guys; they made a run in the second half. When you’re playing a Big Ten team in the State Farm Center, those runs are hard to overcome. Illini fans are special. They gave them that extra boost. One thing that we proved is that we can be a pretty good team. We have a lack of experience and some of these guys have never been through it before. I’m excited to continue to grow with this team. I love them. I’m proud of them. I told them to walk out of the locker room with their head up and chest out. We’re going to get there. I’m excited; we’re building something special.”
The Beacons (2-2) will return home on Tuesday night to host Western Illinois at 7 p.m. at the Athletics-Recreation Center. For ticket information, visit valpoathletics.com/tickets.