Valparaiso (2-7, 0-1 MVC)
Game #10 - Jan. 1, 2023 - 2 p.m.
at Murray State (8-2, 1-0 MVC)
CFSB Center (8,600) - Murray, Ky.
Next Up in Valpo Basketball: A challenging opening weekend of MVC play concludes for the Valpo women’s basketball team Sunday afternoon as the Beacons play at Valley newcomer Murray State. After facing the conference preseason favorite in the opener on Friday, Valpo is matched up against the team with the best winning percentage in the MVC on Sunday as the Racers enter at 8-2 overall.
Previously: Playing its first game in three weeks, Valpo matched its season best for 3-pointers made on Friday evening, with both senior Olivia Brown and junior Ava Interrante hitting career watermarks from downtown, but it would not be enough to overcome MVC preseason favorite Belmont in the Bruins’ Valley debut, as the hosts came away 74-60 victors.
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Head Coach Mary Evans: Mary Evans is in her fifth year at the helm of the program in 2022-23 and owns a record of 50-75. Evans has made an impact on the program in her first four years, raising the team’s level of play to be competitive in a strong Missouri Valley Conference. Evans’ preferred style of play has been a big part of the program’s turnaround, as Valpo has led the MVC in 3-pointers made per game in each of the last three seasons and in steals per game in two of the last three years.
Series Notes: Sunday is the first meeting in program history between Valpo and Murray State, as the Beacons play a Valley newcomer for the second straight game.
- Valpo was picked to finish in 10th place in the MVC preseason poll, totaling 197 points, just 10 points behind Evansville.
- Valpo is in its sixth season as a member of the Missouri Valley Conference.
- The Valley was ranked 10th in conference NET last year, was ranked seventh nationally in conference NET in 2020-21 and was eighth nationally in conference RPI in 2019-20.
...looking back at last year
- Valpo finished last year with an 11-19 overall record, but was strong in MVC play, going 9-9 in conference and finishing in sixth place - both of which match the program’s best since joining the Valley.
- The Beacons registered the first win at Drake and the first win at Bradley in program history.
- Valpo swept the season series over Drake, the program’s first two wins ever against the Bulldogs.
- The Beacons also tallied four top-100 wins within Valley play.
- Grace White was named MVC Sixth Player of the Year - the program’s first major postseason award since joining the Valley. Shay Frederick was a First Team All-MVC choice, while White was an All-Defensive Team selection and Olivia Brown earned a spot on the All-Newcomer Team.
- Olivia Brown hit four first-half 3-pointers and Ava Interrante three, combining for 21 first-half points as Valpo trailed 44-30 at intermission.
- The Beacons cut the deficit to single digits at 48-40 with 4:11 to play in the third quarter.
- Valpo was called for fouls on its next six defensive possessions, allowing Belmont to go 10-of-11 from the foul line over that span as the Bruins scored 12 of the quarter’s final 17 points to lead 60-45 with 10 minutes to play.
- The Beacons dropped their MVC opener for the fifth time in six seasons in the conference. Notably, all but one of those defeats have come on the road.
- Valpo went 11-of-27 from 3-point range on Friday night, the third time this year it has hit double digits from deep and matching its season high of 11 triples, previously reached against Bowling Green.
- The Beacons’ 40.7% 3-point percentage was their second-best of the season as well.
- Leading the charge from deep was Brown, who went 6-of-8 from the 3-point line for her team-best 18 points. The six triples tied her career high and set a high for her time at Valpo.
- Brown also moved into Valpo’s single-game record book, as her .750 3-point percentage is tied for seventh-best in program history with a minimum of seven attempts.
- Ava Interrante made her presence felt from deep as well, setting a career best as she went 4-of-6 from downtown. The junior ended the night with 14 points — one off her career high set last time out.
- Ali Saunders ended up in double figures as well, closing strong to finish with 10 points — her sixth time in double digits this season. The rookie also matched her season high with five assists.
- After Belmont shot 51.4% from the field and 8-of-13 from 3-point range in the first half, the Beacons’ defense held the Bruins to 37.5% shooting and 0-of-6 from deep in the second half.
- Valpo committed 22 turnovers on Friday to just 14 for Belmont, as the Bruins enjoyed a 20-8 advantage in points off turnovers.
...at Western Illinois
- WIU led 27-16 at the end of the first quarter and extended its lead to 50-28 at intermission.
- The Leathernecks led by 25 early in the third quarter. Valpo battled back to within 16 at the end of the third period and got the deficit down to 11 points in the fourth quarter, missing a shot that would have potentially made it an eight-point game with 8:41 to play.
- Jayda Johnston surpassed her previous career high of six points early in the second quarter and finished with a team-best 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting and four rebounds in 32 minutes of action off the bench.
- Ava Interrante’s third-quarter output of nine points broke her previous career best by itself. All 15 of the junior’s points came in the second half, as she hit 5-of-8 from the field, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range.
- Leah Earnest registered her fourth double-double of the season, scoring 10 points and leading all players with 10 rebounds.
- After shooting just 9-of-26 from the field in the first half, Valpo shot nearly 50% (13-of-27) in the second half. The Beacons also were 6-of-14 from 3-point range in the final 20 minutes after going without a triple in the opening 20 minutes.
- Western Illinois took advantage of an edge at the charity stripe, going 28-of-37 from the foul line to Valpo’s 17-of-23. The Leathernecks also forced 22 Valpo turnovers and committed just 11 miscues, finishing with an 18-5 edge in points off turnovers.
- The Beacons return home for the first time in nearly a month next weekend to host Evansville and Indiana State.
- Valpo then makes a quick mid-week trip to Chicago to take on UIC Jan. 11.
...on the road
- Friday’s game is the fifth of 14 true road games for Valpo this season and the first MVC road game.
- The Beacons are 1-3 so far this season on the road and posted a 5-11 record in true road games last season.
- Murray State enters Sunday’s game with an 8-2 overall record this year and opened Valley play on Friday with a 68-55 victory over UIC.
- The Racers are led by reigning OVC Player of the Year Katelyn Young, who averages 19.6 points/game on 54.2% shooting from the floor and a team-high 7.2 rebounds/game as well.
- Murray State’s only losses to date were at Purdue and against Austin Peay. The Racers rebounded from the latter setback with an upset victory at Kentucky.
The New and the New
- It’s not everyday you face an opponent in conference play for the first time in program history, but that’s the case for the Beacons twice this weekend.
- The matchups against MVC newcomers Belmont and Murray State both add brand-new opponents to Valpo’s all-time results.
- When Valpo joined the MVC prior to the 2017-18 campaign, it had played against seven of the conference’s nine teams, with only games against Southern Illinois and Missouri State serving as brand-new matchups in its inaugural Valley campaign.
- Ironically, while two of the Valley’s three newcomers are new opponents for the Beacons, the third - UIC - is the most-common opponent in program history, as Valpo has met the Flames on 50 occasions.
A Tough Opening Weekend
- Not only does Valpo have to play on the road to open MVC play, it is presented with a pair of tough tasks on opening wekeend.
- The opening weekend brought games at Belmont - preseason MVC favorites - and Murray State - which entered conference play with the Valley’s best nonconference record.
- Belmont and Murray State both entered MVC action with top-100 NET rankings, two of the Valley’s four squads in the top-100.
- The Beacons’ opening weekend this season is analogous to their opening weekend last season, when they played at Southern Illinois - eventual regular season champions - and Missouri State - preseason favorites.
Hitting From Deep
- Valpo reached double figures in 3-pointers made for the third time this season on Friday evening when the Beacons connected on 11 triples at Belmont to tie a season high.
- The Beacons also hit better than 40% from deep for the second time this season.
- Olivia Brown matched her career high and set a high-water mark for her time at Valpo with six triples, while Ava Interrante set a career best with four 3-pointers.
- On the year, Brown is tied for sixth in the Valley with 2.2 triples/game, while Valpo ranks third as a team with 8.1 3-pointers/game.
Interrante Steps Up
- Junior Ava Interrante entered Valpo’s game at Western Illinois with 27 career points to her credit, but has more than doubled that mark over the Beacons’ last two outings.
- Interrante flew past her previous career high with 15 second-half points against the Leathernecks, and followed last time out with 14 points in the game at Belmont.
- Interrante also made her first career start last time out against the Bruins.
- The junior entered the WIU game with just one career triple to her credit, but hit three from deep in that contest and then bested that on Friday with four 3-pointers against Belmont.
Setting Career Bests
- Interrante wasn’t the only Beacon player to zoom past her previous career best Dec. 9 at Western Illinois.
- Junior Jayda Johnston raced past her previous high of six points just 2:05 into the second quarter on her way to a team-best 16 points.
- Eight of Valpo’s 11 players who have seen action this season have tied or set career bests for scoring at some point in this season’s first eight games - notably, three separate games have featured multiple Beacons hitting career highs.
- The season-opening win at Central Michigan featured career bests for Leah Earnest (20) and Katie Beyer (11), while Ali Saunders (32) and Olivia Sims (12) hit career highs in the overtime loss to UAB.
Ringing In the New Year
- There might be glitter on the floor after the party, but hopefully not on the court of the CFSB Center on Sunday as Valpo and Murray State step on the hardwood for New Year’s Day action.
- This marks just the second time in program history Valpo has played on January 1 - the only previous time was an 80-63 loss at Wright State to open the 2016 calendar year.
It’s Been Awhile
- Here’s an analogy: Valpo’s break between games was to a normal exam break or holiday break, as Taylor Swift’s All Too Well (10 Minute Version) is to a normal pop song.
- Due to the postponement of the Dec. 22 game at Wisconsin, when the Beacons stepped on the court on Friday at Belmont, they took the floor for game action for the first time in 21 days. Their last game came back on Friday, Dec. 9 at Western Illinois.
- The break was already going to be a lengthy 13 days heading into the Wisconsin game, but the postponement took the length of the break into rare air.
- The last time Valpo went at least three weeks between games was during the 1989-90 campaign, when it played at Ball State Dec. 12 and next competed Jan. 4 at Loyola Marymount, a span of 23 days.
Top Scorers Doing So Efficiently
- Three of Valpo’s top four scorers are hitting at least half their shots from the floor so far this year.
- Leah Earnest is averaging 12.2 points/game on 57.7% shooting, Ali Saunders 12.0 points/game on 53.8% shooting and Ilysse Pitts 5.9 points/game on 50% shooting.
- While she’s not hitting at a 50% clip, Olivia Brown isn’t shabby either, scoring 12.1 points/game on 45.6% shooting.
- Earnest, Brown and Saunders are all hitting at least 40% of their 3-point attempts as well.
- Valpo has not had even one of its top scorers shoot at least 50% for a season since Sharon Karungi scored 11 points/game on 52.9% shooting in 2013-14.
Earnest Crashes the Boards
- Leading the way on the glass in the MVC this season has been junior Leah Earnest, with four double-figure rebounding performances and an 8.8 rebounds/game average to top the conference and rank among the top-70 nationally.
- Earnest now owns the top-two individual rebounding efforts in head coach Mary Evans’ tenure with 14 against EIU and 13 against UAB.
- Combining her scoring and rebounding, Earnest has registered four double-doubles after recording just one in her first two seasons combined.
- Earnest is the first player in program history to tally three double-doubles in the first four games of a season.
- Earnest already has more double-doubles this season than Valpo has posted as a team in any of the last three seasons. She is the first Valpo player with at least four double-doubles in a single campaign since Addison Stoller tallied four during the 2018-19 season.
A New Rookie Standard
- Freshman Ali Saunders set a new mark for Valpo rookies as she scored 32 points against UAB.
- The previous freshman record is unknown, but there have now been 16 games in program history a Valpo player has scored 32 or more points, and none of the previous 15 came from a rookie.
- Saunders posted the highest-scoring game by any Valpo player since Dani Franklin dropped 33 points against Eastern Illinois on Dec. 3, 2016.
- Saunders was in double figures in the scoring column in each of the first four games of her collegiate career - the first Valpo freshman since Franklin in 2014-15 to do so.
Top 100 Wins
- Valpo has made a habit of knocking off top-100 opponents in MVC play over the last few seasons.
- Four times in MVC play in 2021-22, the Beacons earned a victory over a top-100 team.
- Valpo has nine top-100 NET/RPI wins in Valley action over the last three seasons.
- Prior to its Feb. 16, 2020 win at Illinois State - its first top-100 win in conference play since joining the Valley - Valpo had gone nearly seven years without a top-100 victory.
- Valpo has two shots at top-100 NET wins this weekend, as Belmont and Murray State join Drake and UNI within the top-100 entering the start of MVC play.
Happy Trails Until 2023
- Despite being within the first week of December, the home game against Western Michigan on Dec. 7 was the Beacons’ last at the ARC in the 2022 calendar year.
- Valpo will not play another home game until welcoming Evansville to town on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023.
- The 29 days between home games is the longest stretch between regular season home games for Valpo since the 1999-2000 team went 35 days between playing Eastern Michigan at the ARC on Dec. 9 and Oakland at home on Jan. 13.