After trailing by as many as 13 points, the Valparaiso University women’s basketball team roared from behind and eventually held on for dear life on Thursday evening at the TaxSlayer Center in Moline, Ill. When the clock hit zero, the Valpo bench erupted with joy, celebrating a 79-77 win over Indiana State in the first round of the 2019 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. Appropriately enough, it was senior Meredith Hamlet (McBain, Mich. / McBain) who scored a team-high 25 points, helping extend her career beyond Thursday.
How It Happened
- Indiana State (11-19) jumped out to an early 11-5 lead by shooting 80 percent through the first two and a half minutes. That forced Valpo head coach Mary Evans into a timeout.
- The Indiana State run continued after the timeout as it extended to 10-0 to make it 17-5. By the end of the first quarter, Valpo had closed to within 10 at 22-12. Indiana State’s Tamara Lee had 11 points on her own, while Valpo was limited to 29 percent shooting.
- Valpo went on a 9-2 run to begin the second quarter, culminating with an Addison Stoller (Cissna Park, Ill. / Cissna Park) layup that made it 24-21 with 5:39 left in the first half. The lead fluctuated between four and eight for the remainder of the quarter before Indiana State took a 35-30 lead into the locker room.
- Valpo’s typical 3-point prowess wasn’t there in the first half, as the team went 2-of-11 from beyond the arc. Three Valpo players pitched in seven points apiece to share the team lead at the break.
- Shay Frederick (Greeneville, Wis. / Hortonville) heated up early in the third quarter, drilling triples on consecutive Valpo possessions to cut the lead to one at 37-36 at the 7:46 mark.
- After trailing by as many as 13, Valpo took its first lead of the game on a Hamlet layup with 6:19 left in the third quarter. Indiana State jumped back in front, but Hamlet knocked in a huge triple with 4:44 left in the third to make it 47-45. Hamlet continued her big stretch by once again giving Valpo the lead, connecting from distance with 2:50 left in the third to make it 50-49 Valpo and force an Indiana State timeout.
- With 24 seconds left in the third quarter, it was Grace Hales’ (Cromwell, Ind. / Westview) turn to nail a go-ahead 3 as the back-and-forth affair continued with Valpo taking a 58-57 edge through three quarters. Hamlet scored 10 points in the third quarter alone to help Valpo put up 28 points.
- Stoller snapped a 71-all stalemate with a basket despite being fouled with 3:04 left to make it 73-71, then Ella Ellenson (Rice Lake Wis. / Rice Lake) beat the shot clock on the ensuing possession to up the lead to four at 75-71.
- Valpo built up a six-point lead with 59 seconds left at 77-71, but the team had to hold on for dear life to pick up the victory. Regan Wentland cut the lead to two at 79-77 with 10 seconds to go, then Tamara Lee picked up a steal to give Indiana State a chance to tie or win. Valpo got the final stop as Frederick swiped the ball away as time expired.
Inside the Game
- This year’s senior class became the first in program history to win a league tournament game in all four years.
- Valpo has now won eight games decided by five points or fewer, its most since 2012-13.
- Valpo is 7-1 in league tournament first-round games over the last eight years.
- Valpo snapped a five-game head-to-head losing streak to Indiana State, picking up its first win over the Sycamores since a 69-65 victory on Dec. 8, 2001. The team avenged two regular-season defeats on Thursday. In particular, this game flipped the script from the last meeting in Terre Haute, when Valpo fell after leading by eight in the second half.
- Valpo shot over 50 percent for the third time this season and did so for the second consecutive game by hitting 51.8 percent from the field. The team made 16 of its 22 shots in the second half.
- Valpo had 28 points in the third quarter, one game after tying the program record for points in a single quarter with 30 against Loyola.
- This marked the second consecutive game all five Valpo starters finished in double figures. Hamlet’s 25 led the way, while Stoller (13), Ellenson (13), Hales (11) and Frederick (10) joined her.
- Hamlet’s 25 points came on an efficient 8-of-11 shooting. She also dished out a team-high five assists. This was Hamlet’s highest scoring output since Jan. 18, when she had 26, also against the Sycamores.
- The Valpo men and women have defeated the same school in tournament play in the same year for the first time since the 2004 Mid-Con Tournament.
- Valpo has won back-to-back games for the first time since beating Chicago State on Nov. 29 and Eastern Illinois on Dec. 2.
- Hamlet played her 122nd career game, moving into a tie for second in program history with Jeanette Gray (1999-2003).
- Turning a 13-point deficit into a victory marked Valpo’s largest comeback of the season, surpassing the team’s 12-point comeback to beat St. Francis Brooklyn. In fact, this was Valpo’s largest comeback since Jan. 12, 2013, when Valpo trailed by 15 and came back to beat Youngstown State 67-59. Ironically, Valpo head coach Mary Evans was on the Youngstown State bench as an assistant for that game.
- Thursday was Valpo’s first win this season when trailing at halftime after going 0-14 in such instances during the regular season.
Thoughts from Head Coach Mary Evans
“I’m really happy for these young ladies. I thought we had a great week of preparation. Indiana State did a great job coming out and being aggressive and physical early in the game. We were taken aback by that and let them get a big lead. I’m really proud of the way they continued to fight, scratch and claw to get back into the game.”
“Our team is still extremely young. Even a redshirt sophomore in Addison Stoller has played a lot more minutes than she did last year. There is a lot of inexperience on the floor for us, and our players have continued to learn every single day. We talk about the fact that you’re only a loser if you don’t learn, and our players have accepted that mentality. They’ve taken things from our losses and grown individually and collectively. They’re starting to see the culmination of that and find a way to win. We’re starting to get over the hump that we couldn’t get over in January and February.”
“It started with our defense. We got tougher. They were throwing the punches in the first quarter and we were backing away, then we matched some of that physicality. Our offense struggled through the first half. Our tempo wasn’t good, we weren’t moving and cutting hard. Our players corrected that in the second half and started moving with more tempo. We got better looks and started making them. This is a very good shooting basketball team, so when we struggled from 3 in the first half, we knew that’s not who we are as a team.”
“Drake is a really good team. We had two games where we lost, and you’re never happy with a loss, but we were like, ‘OK, we saw some good things.’ We didn’t sustain it, but there were positive stretches. They’re an extremely talented group – they’re well-coached, they’re disciplined, they play hard. They’re a great team and they’re a great team to represent our conference. I want to get our kids in a position to be competitive and go out there and give it the best shot we have. It’s March and crazy things happen in March, so you never know.”
Valpo (8-23) advances to the quarterfinal round of Hoops in the Heartland to take on No. 21 Drake at the TaxSlayer Center in Moline, Ill. The game will tip at noon and will be broadcast on ESPN+. Links to live video, audio and stats will be available on ValpoAthletics.com.