The past met the present in all the right ways on Sunday afternoon at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
A day that started with legendary head coach Homer Drew thanking Valpo fans for their role in the team’s 113-14 record over a decade of ARC dominance ended with head coach Matt Lottich’s team improving its home mark to 4-0 on the season by downing Central Michigan 77-55.
Drew’s recent enshrinement into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame was celebrated with a pregame banner-raising ceremony, and the reasons to cheer just kept coming for Valpo fans when the game got underway. With Homer Drew, Bryce Drew and numerous other notable alumni looking on, the current team delivered an effort that resembled those of the many successful squads throughout the program’s proud past. The Valpo defense held a Central Michigan team that entered the day leading the nation in scoring average at 93.9 points per game to a season-low 55 points.
How It Happened
- Central Michigan jumped out to an 8-3 lead over the first five minutes of the game. Valpo responded with a monster run, scoring 13 straight points to grab a 16-8 lead once Eron Gordon (Indianapolis, Ind. / Cathedral [Seton Hall]) connected on a jumper with 11:09 to go in the first half. That run saw Valpo hold Central Michigan scoreless for over five minutes.
- The Valpo lead reached double figures for the first time in the game when Javon Freeman-Liberty (Chicago, Ill. / Whitney Young) came up with a steal and a fast-break basket at the 6:35 mark that extended the cushion to 20-10. The Chippewas closed to within five at 26-21 with 3:06 left in the half, but a Donovan Clay (Alton, Ill. / Alton) dunk put an exclamation mark on an 8-1 spurt to close the half.
- Clay had entered double figures by the break, leading all scorers with 10 first-half points on 5-of-8 shooting. His team owned its largest lead of the game to that point at 34-22 when the teams hit the locker room for halftime.
- The Valpo cushion reached 20 for the first time when Nick Robinson (Chicago, Ill. / Kenwood [Saint Joseph’s]) slammed one home to make it 51-31 with 14:05 to play. Central Michigan would get no closer than 17 the rest of the way.
Inside the Game
- Central Michigan had hit the century mark on four occasions this season, but was held to a season-low 55 points on Sunday at the ARC. The only other game where the Chippewas scored below 75 was an 82-57 defeat at Minnesota.
- Valpo held Central Michigan to just 33.9 percent shooting for the game, the team’s second-lowest shooting percentage of the season behind 33.3 percent at Minnesota on Nov. 21. Before Sunday, the lowest field-goal percentage against Valpo in a game this season was Trinity Christian at 45.5.
- The 55 points marked the fewest allowed by Valpo since the team beat Indiana State in last year’s MVC Tournament opener 77-55, the exact same score as Sunday’s game.
- The opponent’s field goal percentage of 33.9 was Valpo’s best since holding Missouri State to 30.9 percent on Jan. 29, 2019 at the ARC.
- Valpo limited Central Michigan to just 1-of-17 (5.9 percent) from beyond the 3-point arc. Central Michigan had previously made at least four 3s in every game this year, and Valpo had previously allowed at least four 3s in every game this year.
- This was the first time Valpo held an opponent to just one made 3 in a game since Nov. 19, 2017 vs. Southeastern Louisiana. CMU’s 5.9 percent from 3 marked Valpo’s lowest opponent’s 3-point percentage since Jan. 26, 2015, when Valpo held Milwaukee to 5.9 percent, one made triple in 17 tries.
- Valpo handed out 24 assists on 31 made baskets, led by Freeman-Liberty and Robinson with six apiece.
- In the scoring column, Freeman-Liberty led the way for the seventh time in the last eight games and the seventh straight game against Division-I competition, pouring in 19 points to go along with six boards and the aforementioned six assists. He also had two steals and a block while scoring 19 points or more for the ninth straight game against Division-I teams.
- Gordon was perfect both from the field (4-for-4) and the free-throw stripe (4-for-4) en route to a season-high 14 points. Robinson had 13 points and a season-high nine rebounds, once again filling the stat sheet.
- Ben Krikke (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada / Jasper Place) added nine points and five boards on an efficient 4-of-5 shooting. John Kiser (Noblesville, Ind. / Noblesville) handed out five assists, matching his career best from Nov. 12 at SIUE.
- Clay was in double figures for the third straight game, finishing with 10 points.
- This marks the fourth time in the last five years Valpo has started 4-0 at home.
Thoughts From Head Coach Matt Lottich
“Coming into the game, we challenged our players to be better defensively. We weren’t guarding great, and we had the No. 1 offensive team in the country coming in. We had a couple good practices leading into the game, and I thought it showed. We took a great offensive team and made them shoot tough shots. I was really proud of the effort. That was indicative of what we want to be and who we are, and we want to build on that.”
Thoughts From Valpo Legend Homer Drew
“It was a very special moment. It was a nice surprise to be elected to the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. When Athletic Director Mark LaBarbera called about putting a banner up, I was very honored and excited to be able to come back and see a basketball game and see a banner go up, but most of all to be able to thank all of the friends and people of Valparaiso that allowed for that banner to be hung. It took a lot of good players and a lot of good fans. There was a decade where we went 113-14 at home, winning nearly 90 percent of our games. The fans were a big part of that. I can remember them standing and cheering and helping our players, so it was wonderful to be able to come back and say thank you to our friends and fans.”
Valpo (6-4) will not compete this week due to finals, but will return to game action on Monday, Dec. 16 for a 6 p.m. CT tip at Charlotte. The game will air on 49ers TV with links to live video, audio and stats available on ValpoAthletics.com.