Valparaiso (7-20, 5-13 MVC)
Game #28 - March 2, 2023 - 6 p.m.
Murray State (13-14, 6-12 MVC)
Athletics-Recreation Center (5,000) - Valparaiso, Ind.
Next Up in Valpo Basketball: The Valpo women’s basketball team returns to the ARC for the final weekend of the regular season, with its eyes on moving up the MVC standings heading into Hoops in the Heartland. The Beacons open weekend play on Thursday evening when they welcome Murray State to the ARC for the first time.
Previously: Looking to make it four consecutive road victories, Valpo led MVC co-leader Illinois State in Normal, Ill. at the end of the first quarter on Saturday afternoon, but the host Redbirds pulled away over the next three periods to earn a 78-49 victory. Ali Saunders paced Valpo with 12 points, while Jayda Johnston scored 10 off the bench.
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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 55-88. 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: The all-time series between Valpo and Murray State consists of exactly one game, as the two teams met on the hardwood for the first time earlier this season on New Year’s Day in Murray, Ky. The Beacons were within three points at the start of the fourth quarter of that contest, but the Racers pulled away in the final period for a 67-48 victory. Olivia Brown scored a team-high 15 points in that game, while Leah Earnest contributed eight points and 10 rebounds.
- 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.
...at Illinois State
- After surrendering the first six points of the game, Valpo scored the next seven to set the stage for an opening quarter which featured five lead changes.
- The Beacons scored the final five points of the period in the final minute to take an 18-14 lead at the end of one.
- Valpo and Illinois State were tied at 25-25 late in the second quarter before the Redbirds closed the half on an 11-2 run to lead 36-27 at intermission.
- Valpo was held to one field goal over the first 7:50 of the third quarter as Illinois State pulled out to a 56-35 lead with 10 minutes to play. The Beacons were unable to get closer than 18 points in the final quarter.
- After shooting better than 50% in each of their previous two games, the Beacons hit just 34.7% (17-of-49) from the field and were just 7-of-29 from 3-point range.
- Valpo did hold Illinois State to 39.7% shooting from the floor (25-of-63), but the Redbirds hit 11 3-pointers — a season high for a Valpo opponent in MVC play. The Redbirds also committed nine fewer turnovers than the Beacons.
- Ali Saunders paced Valpo with 12 points and dished out a game-best six assists to set a career high.
- Jayda Johnston joined Saunders in double figures, scoring 10 points to reach double digits for the third time this season.
- Leah Earnest and Emma Tecca shared team-high honors with five rebounds each. Tecca’s five boards were her season best and matched her career high from her time at Akron.
- Valpo led 16-15 at the end of the first quarter and held Bradley to eight second-quarter points to extend its lead to 33-23 at intermission.
- Bradley got to within seven in the third quarter, but the Beacons ended the period on a 10-2 run to push its advantage to its apex at 53-37 with 10 minutes to play.
- Valpo scored 23 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the floor in the final period, but needed every bit of it, as Bradley poured in 35 points on 14-of-18 shooting over the final 10 minutes.
- The Braves outscored Valpo 10-2 over a three-minute stretch to close to within one possession at 68-65 with 1:31 to go. Ali Saunders hit Olivia Brown for a layup with 1:08 to play to make it a five-point game, but on the other end, Bradley’s Ruba Abo Hashesh hit from deep to cut the lead to 70-68.
- Valpo ran the shot clock down on its next possession and got Leah Earnest in an iso at the top of the key, and the junior drove past her defender for a one-handed layup to make it 72-68 with 22.6 seconds remaining. Bradley scored inside on each of its next two possessions, but both times Valpo hit a pair of free throws — first Earnest, then Saunders — to keep the Braves from possessing with a chance to tie or take the lead.
- Valpo shot a season-best 53.2% from the field in Thursday’s win. The Beacons have hit at better than 50% in each of the last two games after doing so just twice in the first 24 games of the season.
- This marks the first time Valpo has shot 50% or better in consecutive games since doing so against Bradley and Illinois State last February.
- It was a balanced team effort on Thursday, as no player played more than 31 minutes and nine played at least 15 minutes. All nine of those players scored, with six of them scoring six or more points.
- Leading the way offensively were Brown and Saunders, who shared game-high honors with 17 points. Brown paced Valpo for the third straight game in the scoring column, going 6-of-8 from the floor and a perfect 5-of-5 from the foul line.
- Saunders scored in double figures for the 15th time with her 17-point effort, missing just once from the floor (6-7 FG; 2-3 3PT; 3-3 FT). The freshman also tied for team-high honors with four assists and committed just one turnover.
- Earnest’s four clutch points in the final minute of play bumped her game total to 11 points, as she scored in double figures for a team-best 17th time this season. The junior also pulled down five rebounds.
- The regular season wraps up at the ARC Saturday afternoon on Senior Day as the Beacons host Belmont.
- Hoops in the Heartland begins Thursday, March 9 in Moline, Ill.
...at the ARC
- Thursday’s game is the 14th of 15 home games this season for Valpo and the ninth home MVC game.
- The Beacons are 3-10 at home so far this year and went 6-7 in home games last season.
- Murray State enters Thursday’s game with a 13-14 overall record this season and a 6-12 mark in MVC play.
- The Racers are just 1-7 in conference road games in their first season in the Valley.
- Murray State fell to Drake (97-71) and UNI (76-46) last weekend.
- The Racers are led by MVC Player of the Year candidate Katelyn Young, who leads the Valley, averaging 21.6 points/game to go with 7.9 rebounds/game. Macey Turley (12.0 points/game) and Hannah McKay (10.0 points/game) also average in double figures in the scoring column.
A Look at the Standings
- With just two games to go in the regular season, seeding for Hoops in the Heartland is up in the air up and down the MVC standings, and Valpo’s eventual placement is no exception.
- The Beacons, currently tied for 10th, can finish as anywhere from the eight seed through the 11 seed, meaning three out of Thursday’s four first-round games in Moline are still potential landing spots.
- Head-to-head ties at the end of the regular season with either Indiana State or Evansville would break in Valpo’s favor - both season series were split, and then comparing results against the top down in the final standings would give Valpo the advantage in both cases by virute of its win over Missouri State.
- A head-to-head tie with Murray State would depend on which team of Belmont (who Murray State beat this season) or Missouri State finished higher in the standings, or potentially having to go further down the standings to break the deadlock.
- Valpo would not come out on the bottom of any three or four-way tie.
- Valpo’s last two wins have featured two of the team’s best offensive performances of the year.
- The Beacons shot at a 53.2% clip (25-of-47) from the floor in the win over Bradley, four days after hitting 51.1% (24-of-47) in the win at Evansville.
- Those marked the team’s two best shooting percentages of the season - Valpo had only hit 50% or better twice in the season’s first 24 games prior to Sunday.
- The Beacons were 10-of-18 from behind the 3-point line in the win at Evansville, the fifth time this season they have reached double digits in 3-pointers. Seven different Valpo players hit at least one triple.
- The 55.6% clip from deep was the program’s best since hitting 75% at Southern Illinois on Feb. 27, 2021.
- Valpo also committed just 13 turnovers in the victory, tied for its second-fewest within MVC play this season.
- Meanwhile, against Bradley, the Beacons were especially proficient inside the arc, hitting 17-of-23 (73.9%) of their 2-point attempts against the Braves.
- It marked the program’s best 2-point shooting percentage in a single game since hitting 78.8% from inside the arc at Western Illinois on Feb. 15, 1997.
- Valpo dished out a season-best 17 assists in the win over Bradley as well.
- The stellar offense against Evansville came two days after the top defensive effort of the year in the win at Indiana State.
- Valpo held the Sycamores to 47 points, the season low for a Valpo opponent.
- The Beacons limited ISU to 35.4% shooting from the floor - the second-lowest clip by an opponent this season - and 3-of-14 from 3-point range - matching the fewest made triples by an opponent this year.
- Valpo also forced 19 Sycamore turnovers, tying for second-most by a Valpo opponent on the season.
- The 47 points allowed was the lowest by a Valpo squad since a 52-47 win at Purdue on Dec. 6, 2020. It was the Beacons’ best defensive effort in conference play since beating Indiana State 61-45 on Feb. 8, 2020.
Enjoying the Road
- The road was kind to Valpo over the last two weekends, as the Beacons won three road wins in a row after entering the stretch with just one road victory to their credit this year.
- This marks the third consecutive season (excepting the COVID-affected 2020-21 season) that Valpo has swept the Indiana State/Evansville road swing - the first time in program history it has swept the same conference road trip three straight years.
- The win at Bradley gave Valpo three consecutive road wins in conference play for the first time since winning at Loyola once and at SIU twice in February 2021, and the first such streak against three different opponents since winning at Oral Roberts, Centenary and Western Illinois in January 2007.
- The three-game winning streak, all on the road, is the program’s first since the aforementioned 2021 trio of victories. The last time Valpo won at least three straight games, all of which were on the road, prior to that came on either side of New Year’s Day 2005, when Valpo won at Dartmouth to close nonconference play and opened Mid-Con play with wins at Centenary and at Oakland.
- Senior Olivia Brown was strong during the Beacons’ recent three-game winning streak, averaging 16.7 points/game over the three wins.
- Brown scored a game-high 16 points in the win at Indiana State, a team-best 16 points in the win at Evansville and tied for game-high honors with 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting Thursday in the win at Bradley.
- Brown is currently hitting at a .415 clip from 3-point range this year, fourth-best in the Valley.
- She also is sixth among MVC players with 2.0 triples/game.
- Brown has boosted her shooting numbers in conference play to 2.2 3-pointers/game (4th) on .440 shooting (3rd), including a pair of 6-of-8 efforts from downtown.
- Brown’s .415 season 3-point percentage would rank eighth in a season in program history, while her current career 3-point clip of .408 at Valpo ranks second in program history.
Earnest Doubles Up
- Junior Leah Earnest has been one of the Valley’s most effective rebounders this season, averaging 7.5 rebounds/game.
- She has posted nine double-figure rebounding performances this year - most recently a 12-board effort against UNI.
- Earnest now owns the top-three individual rebounding efforts in head coach Mary Evans’ tenure with 14 against EIU and 13 against both UAB and Wisconsin.
- Earnest also scored 10 points against the Panthers, giving her eight double-doubles this season 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 has more double-doubles this season than Valpo has posted as a team since the 2016-17 season. Her most recent double-double matched Dani Franklin, who tallied eight during the 2016-17 campaign, while her next one would mark the most since Jasmyn Walker posted nine double-doubles in 2014-15.
A Perfect Shooting Performance
- Freshman Ali Saunders was literally perfect when shots left her hands against UNI.
- Saunders was 7-for-7 from the field, including a 3-pointer, and was also 4-for-4 from the foul line to tie for game-high honors with 19 points.
- Saunders is the first Valpo player with a 100% field goal percentage on at least seven attempts since Tamra Braun went 10-for-10 at Oakland on Jan. 3, 2004.
- Along with her perfect shooting performance, Saunders dished out four assists. Per HerHoopStats.com, she is one of only four D-I players nationally with a game this season where they have gone 7-of-7 or better from the field and also tallied at least four assists.
- Saunders nearly duplicated the feat in the win at Bradley, missing just a lone 3-point attempt on her way to sharing game-high honors with 17 points (6-7 FG; 2-3 3PT; 3-3 FT).
- The most unlikely of this season’s double-digit quarters by Valpo players came against UNI.
- Emma Tecca, who entered the game averaging less than a point per game, scored 10 of her career-high 12 points in the fourth quarter against the Panthers.
- Tecca’s double-figure period was the ninth of the season, spread out among five Beacon players.
- It was the second of the weekend, as Ali Saunders scored 12 points (on four 3-pointers) in the fourth quarter against Drake.
- Saunders’ previous two double-digit periods both came in the same game - 10 points in the first quarter and 11 points in overtime versus UAB.
- Valpo’s season high for points in a quarter by a single player is 13, accomplished by both Olivia Brown and Jayda Johnston.
- Brown scored 13 in the first quarter against Bradley - her third double-digit quarter of the year, as she previously had 11 points in the second quarter at Drake and 10 points in the fourth quarter against Western Michigan.
- Johnston poured in 13 points in just 6:22 of playing time in the third quarter against Illinois State at the ARC.
- Maya Dunson had 11 points in the fourth quarter versus Indiana State at the ARC.
Second Half Scoring
- Remarkably, three different Valpo players have scored 14 or more points in a game this season after entering halftime scoreless.
- Jayda Johnston dropped 14 points in the second half against Illinois State after being held without a first-half point.
- Maya Dunson scored 14 second-half points against Indiana State and Ava Interrante went for 15 in the second half at Western Illinois following scoreless first halves.
Improvement on the Glass
- This year’s Valpo team has been the best in terms of rebounding margin in the tenure of head coach Mary Evans, and the Beacons have been even better within conference play.
- In their eight nonconference games, the Beacons were a -5.3 in rebounding margin and surrendered 5.9 more offensive rebounds per game than they grabbed.
- But within MVC play, Valpo has been just -4.3 in rebounding margin and has surrendered just 2.8 more offensive rebounds per game than it has tallied.
- The win over Missouri State was especially notable - Valpo enjoyed a 28-23 advantage on the glass, a +5 edge that came against a Missouri State team which outrebounded the Beacons by a combined 36 boards in last season’s two matchups, and which had enjoyed a double-figure rebounding advantage in each of its last four games.
- The Lady Bears’ 23 rebounds were their lowest total since Feb. 11, 2018.
- Valpo held a 35-29 edge on the glass in the win at Indiana State - the Beacons outrebounded the Sycamores, who hold a positive rebounding margin on the season, by six in both matchups this year.
Setting Career Bests
- With Emma Tecca’s 12-point effort against UNI, tying her career best set while she was at Akron, all 11 active Beacons have set or matched their career high in the scoring column this season.
2/12 vs. UNI - Emma Tecca (12)
1/29 vs. Bradley - Olivia Brown (24)
1/24 vs. Missouri State - Ilysse Pitts (24)
1/7 vs. Indiana State - Maya Dunson (14)
12/9 at Western Illinois - Jayda Johnston (16), Ava Interrante (15)
11/21 vs. UAB - Ali Saunders (32), Olivia Sims (12 [tied twice more])
11/12 vs. Southern Miss - Ella Van Weelden (9)
11/7 at Central Michigan - Leah Earnest (20), Katie Beyer (11)
- Valpo lost both regular season matchups against UIC by a combined total of three points - a one-point loss in Chicago and a two-point loss at the ARC.
- It is the first time in program history Valpo has lost two games in the same season to the same opponent by a combined three or fewer points.
- Valpo’s loss at UIC on Josie Filer’s 3-pointer with 1.9 seconds remaining was its second last-second defeat this season.
- The Beacons fell in overtime to UAB on Nov. 21 when the Blazers’ Maria Roters hit a layup with 3.3 seconds to play in the extra period.
- Prior to the UAB game, Valpo had not lost a game by a single possession since another heartbreaking defeat - a 74-73 loss to #25 Missouri State on Jan. 31, 2021 on three free throws with 0.8 seconds left.
- This year is the first time Valpo has lost multiple games on a last-second shot (inside the final five seconds) since 2010-11 - that year’s squad fell 69-67 at Evansville on a layup with 1.1 seconds remaining and 70-69 at Milwaukee on a jumper in the paint with 4.9 seconds to play.
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.