Valparaiso got 16 points from Betsy Rietema (Grand Rapids, Mich./Christian H.S.) and a double-double, 13 points and 10 rebounds from Tamra Braun (Savage, Minn./Prior Lake H.S.) as the Crusaders opened Mid-Continent Conference play with a 57-54 victory over preseason favorite Oral Roberts on the road in Tulsa, Okla.
With the victory, the Crusaders handed the Golden Eagles their first home loss of the season after Oral Roberts started the year 7-0 at home, winning by an average of nearly 34 points per game at the Mabee Center.
Valpo's defense allowed the Crusaders to start the game strong, allowing the Golden Eagles to make just one of their first nine shots in the game's opening seven minutes as the Brown and Gold jumped in front 9-2.
Oral Roberts fought back with a run of their own, taking the lead at the 7:04 mark on a three-pointer by Rachel Watman 15-13. The teams traded baskets most of the remainder of the half, with free throws being the difference at the break.
The Golden Eagles led at intermission 31-28, shooting 11-of-12 from the stripe, after coming in as a 60% free throw shooting team on the season.
The Crusader deficit grew to seven early in the second half before Valpo climbed back. Rietema scored with 13:21 to play to bring the Brown and Gold within one, 42-41. A Krystal Taylor (Minneapolis, Minn./North H.S.) triple, the second of her career, from the top gave Valpo a 48-46 advantage with just over 10 minutes to play, a lead the Crusaders would not relinquish the rest of the way.
A pair of free throws by Rietema and another by Taylor pushed the lead to five, and Braun added a lay-in with 4:28 to go to give Valpo a 55-49 lead. The field goal would be the final of the game for the Crusaders, but the defense would help secure the victory.
Jenny Hardin cut the lead to one, 55-54, with 2:03 to play on an old-fashiond three-point play. Agnieszka Kulaga (Tarnow, Poland/I Liceum Ogolnoksztalcase H.S.) made one of two free throws with 19 seconds left to push the lead to two for Valpo. After Valpo forced a turnover, Rietema made one more free throw with 6.8 seconds to go to increase the advantage to three.
Sarah Davidson had a chance to tie with a three-point attempt from the left corner, but it missed and the Crusaders had their third straight victory overall.
Kulaga and Taylor each had eight points for the Crusaders in the win, to help out Rietema and Braun on the scoring end.
Valpo held the top two scorers in the Mid-Continent Conference, Jenny Hardin and Elisha Turek, to just 16 and 10 points respectively. The duo combined to average nearly 35 points per game coming in to the contest.
For the game Valpo committed just 12 turnovers, including just four in the final 20 minutes. The Crusaders also registered 11 offensive rebounds in the second half which led to 12 second chance points.
Valpo forced 16 Golden Eagle turnovers and held Oral Roberts to just 34% shooting from the floor. ORU made 18-of-22 free throws though to keep the contest close.
Valparaiso (7-7, 1-0) will head to Shreveport, La. on Monday evening for another Mid-Continent Conference battle, this time facing the Ladies from Centenary. Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m. with all the action heard live on WVUR (95.1-FM, Valparaiso) and online www.valpo.edu/athletics.