The early deficit was simply too large to overcome for the Valparaiso University men’s basketball team on Sunday evening in a Paradise Jam semifinal matchup with Nevada, as the Wolf Pack advanced to the event’s championship with an 84-59 victory. Sophomore Javon Freeman-Liberty (Chicago, Ill. / Whitney Young) continued his season-long tear, pouring in 21 points to pace the team.
How It Happened
- Nevada (4-3) was touted as a talented 3-point shooting team entering the matchup, and that scouting report proved accurate in the early going. The team’s top 3-point threat Jazz Johnson knocked one in at the 13:40 mark of the first half to give Nevada its first double-figure lead at 19-9.
- The next two Wolf Pack baskets were also triples, extending the lead to 25-12 with 11:54 to go in the half. By the midway mark of the first half, Nevada had made its sixth 3 of the game to boost the edge to 30-13, a lead that would soon jump over 20 at 34-13.
- At halftime, Nevada held a 49-31 thanks to continued hot shooting. The Wolf Pack were shooting 61 percent from the floor at the break, while Valpo was held to just 34.4 percent overall and 9.1 percent (1-of-11) from beyond the arc. Nevada connected on eight of its 15 first-half 3-point tries (53.3 percent).
- Just as the team has throughout the season, Valpo made a second-half run. A Freeman-Liberty jumper with 13:16 to go in the half trimmed the lead to 10 at 57-47. Valpo used a 20-8 spurt after trailing by 22 with 52 seconds left in the first half.
- The Wolf Pack came right back with a run of their own, putting together a 20-3 spurt that extended the lead to 77-50 with 3:44 remaining. A jumper by Zion Morgan (Chicago, Ill. / Kenwood [Wabash Valley/UNLV]) with just under three minutes remaining ended a Valpo scoring drought of 4:29.
Inside the Game
- Freeman-Liberty has scored 20 points or more in each of his last four games and has scored 19 or more in all six games this season. He entered Sunday ranked 14th nationally in scoring average.
- Valpo has had at least one player hit the 20-point mark in every game this season, the first time since at least the start of the Homer Drew Era in 1988-89 that Valpo has had at least one player reach 20 points in each of the first six games of the year.
- John Kiser (Noblesville, Ind. / Noblesville) matched a career high with nine points on Sunday night. He did so efficiently on 4-of-5 shooting while also corralling a team-high six rebounds. Kiser has yet to crack double figures in scoring in his career, but he has four nine-point efforts, including three this season.
- Mileek McMillan (Merrillville, Ind. / Merrillville) chipped in nine points on Sunday, while Daniel Sackey (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada / Thornlea) shared the team lead with Kiser by skiing for six rebounds, matching a personal watermark. Sackey’s rebounding career high was four entering this event, but he has posted back-to-back six-board efforts.
- For the game, Valpo went just 3-of-19 (15.8 percent) from beyond the arc, while the Wolf Pack hit 10 of their 23 3-point tries (43.5 percent).
- Valpo’s only two defeats this season have come against teams that played in the NCAA Tournament last year.
Valpo (4-2) will look to rebound on Monday at 4:45 p.m. CT in the third-place game of the 2019 Paradise Jam. The game will be broadcast on FloHoops and 95.1 FM Valparaiso (WVUR) with links to live video, audio and stats available on ValpoAthletics.com.