The Valparaiso University men’s basketball team rallied from 12 points down to force overtime in Monday’s Paradise Jam third-place game in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, but Cincinnati outscored Valpo 11-7 in the extra session to escape with an 81-77 victory. Javon Freeman-Liberty (Chicago, Ill. / Whitney Young) poured in a career-high 32 points to lead all scorers.
How It Happened
- Valpo (4-3) led for much of the first half after sprinting out to an 11-4 edge behind eight early points by Freeman-Liberty, including a triple with 16:24 left in the first half that extended the early advantage to seven.
- Cincinnati (4-2) responded with a 9-2 spurt to take a 15-13 lead with 10:49 left in the opening half, but Valpo quickly regained the edge. After holding a one-point lead with 6:23 on the clock, Valpo scored seven straight including a Nick Robinson (Chicago, Ill. / Kenwood [Saint Joseph’s]) 3-pointer that made it an eight-point lead with 3:45 remaining in the half.
- Neither team scored over the final 1:18 of the half, and Valpo went into the break with a 34-30 edge. The Valpo defense made the Bearcats uncomfortable from the outset, forcing 11 first-half turnovers. Meanwhile, the Brown & Gold gave it away nine times themselves.
- The Valpo lead extended to 38-30 after a Daniel Sackey (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada / Thornlea) layup and a Freeman-Liberty fast-break dunk coming out of halftime, but once again Cincinnati responded. After a 42-all tie with 14:18 left in regulation, the Bearcats ran off 12 straight points to open up a 54-42 lead with 10:12 to play.
- Eron Gordon (Indianapolis, Ind. / Cathedral [Seton Hall]) stemmed the tide with a jumper at the 9:54 mark, sparking a 21-7 spurt that allowed Valpo to wrestle the lead back at 63-61 with 4:15 to go.
- The Valpo comeback was sparked by a full-court press, which at one point forced the Bearcats into turnovers on four straight possessions. After Freeman-Liberty pulled Valpo within one by burying a 3 at the 4:50 mark, the Valpo sophomore came away with a steal and a fast-break basket to put his team back on top, 62-61.
- The game went back and forth for several minutes before Cincinnati held a 70-65 lead with 1:50 to go. After Freeman-Liberty cut the lead to three with a pair of free throws, Gordon came up with big plays on both ends of the court. He leaped for an impressive steal with 52 seconds to play, then connected on a contested trey with 45 seconds left to even the game at 70.
- Valpo got another stop with 30 seconds to go, allowing the Brown & Gold to hold for the final shot of regulation. Freeman-Liberty’s potential game-winner rolled around the rim and out, then his tip-in try was off the mark, and he grabbed it again to fire off a circus shot at the buzzer while falling out of bounds, a heave that came up empty to send the game to overtime.
- The Bearcats scored the first four points of overtime to grab a 74-70 lead, but Valpo followed with five in a row to make it 75-74 with 3:26 left.
- After absorbing a blow to the face that caused him to receive medical treatment, Robinson put on Valpo’s No. 13 blood jersey and battled through pain to sink a challenging midrange jumper with 1:36 left in overtime to make it 77-76 Valpo.
- Cincinnati regained the lead with 52 seconds left, then Valpo’s final two possessions resulted in missed 3s and the Bearcats made three free throws to secure the win.
Inside the Game
- Freeman-Liberty reached the 30-point mark for the second time in his career, surpassing a personal best of 30 that was set on Nov. 12 at SIUE. He also had nine rebounds, four assists and four steals. He owns five straight 20-point outputs and has scored 19 points or more in every game this season.
- This marked Valpo’s first overtime game since an 87-82 setback to Indiana State on Feb. 13 at the ARC last season. Valpo has lost each of its last three overtime games.
- Robinson blocked three shots while adding 12 points and swiping two steals. Gordon knocked down all three of his shot attempts and totaled nine points and three steals.
- Valpo forced 23 turnovers in the game, but committed 18. The Brown & Gold took care of business at the free-throw line (14-15, 93.3 percent), but struggled to slow the Bearcats from the floor (31-56, 55.4 percent).
- This was the third time this season a Valpo opponent committed 20 or more turnovers, as Cincinnati (23) joined Toledo (21) and North Dakota (20). Monday marked the most turnovers committed by a Valpo opponent since UNLV’s 25 on Nov. 28, 2018.
- All three Valpo losses this season have come against teams that played in the NCAA Tournament last year.
- The free-throw percentage of 93.3 was Valpo’s best in a game with more than five free-throw attempts since Nov. 17, 2016, a 14-for-14 showing at Oregon.
Valpo (4-3) will fly home on Tuesday in advance of Wednesday’s date with Trinity Christian College, which is slated to tip off at 7 p.m. at the Athletics-Recreation Center. The game is a nonbracketed portion of the Paradise Jam event and will be broadcast on ESPN3.