Donovan Clay (Alton, Ill. / Alton) sure didn’t look like a freshman in Monday’s Missouri Valley Conference opener at the Athletics-Recreation Center, but the rookie’s senior-like performance came in a losing effort as visiting Loyola nipped the Valparaiso University men’s basketball team 66-63 in front of a large audience of 4,364. A conference slate that figures to be filled with close games started in tight fashion as Valpo incurred its fourth loss by six points or fewer.
How It Happened
- A slow start created an early hole for the hosts, as the Ramblers (9-5, 1-0 MVC) jumped out to a 12-5 edge in the first four minutes. The Loyola lead was eight with 12:58 to go in the opening half, when Clay drained a 3 and Nick Robinson (Chicago, Ill. / Kenwood [Saint Joseph’s] followed with two triples of his own. The 9-0 run gave Valpo its first edge at 18-17 with 10:19 left in the half.
- Loyola bounced right back with a nine-point run to push the lead up to eight. It reached as high as 11 with 3:43 to play in the half before Valpo scored the final four points and went into the break down 35-28.
- Valpo shot at a 39.3 percent clip in the opening half, while Loyola drained 54.4 percent of its shots.
- The Ramblers built the lead up to 14, owning a 51-37 advantage with 11 minutes remaining. The margin was 13 with 10:18 to play, but Valpo went on a 9-0 run to charge to within four on a Robinson jumper with 7:51 to go.
- The lead shrunk all the way to one at 56-55 on a Mileek McMillan (Merrillville, Ind. / Merrillville) make with 4:42 remaining, but Loyola had it back up to six in the final minute. Clay connected on a huge triple to slice the deficit in half with 29 seconds to go, then the Ramblers split a pair of free throws and it was 64-60 with 27 seconds remaining.
- The ARC erupted into a state of delirium when Clay hit what initially appeared to be a 3-pointer with 11 seconds remaining despite being fouled, setting up a potential game-tying four-point play. Before Clay could step to the free-throw line, the officials stepped to the monitor and eventually ruled that he was on the 3-point line when he attempted the shot, so it was only a 2-point basket. He completed the three-point play with the free throw, but Valpo still trailed by one.
- After a pair of successful Loyola free throws, the lead was three with nine seconds to go. Valpo had one last gasp, but couldn’t get a potential game-tying trey to fall at the buzzer, and Loyola escaped with a thrilling road victory.
Inside the Game
- Clay drained all eight of his shot attempts including four makes from beyond the arc to compose his career night of 21 points.
- Robinson and Freeman-Liberty had seven assists apiece, both career bests.
- McMillan had his second straight game with eight rebounds or more, grabbing eight to go along with eight points. He also had a career-high three blocked shots. Ben Krikke (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada / Jasper Place) collected a season-high six boards.
- The Valpo defense had a significant turnaround in the second half, holding Loyola to 33.3 percent shooting (16.7 percent from 3) after permitting the Ramblers to shoot 54.4 percent (50 percent from 3) prior to the break.
- Loyola went 19-of-30 at the free-throw line, while Valpo had four makes in six attempts.
- Freeman-Liberty was held to 10 points, but still reached double figures for the 14th straight game.
Valpo (7-7, 0-1) will hit the road for a two-game Missouri Valley Conference swing beginning on Saturday night in Evansville. The game against the Purple Aces will tip off at 6 p.m. CT and will be broadcast on The Valley on ESPN+. Links to live video, audio and stats will be available on ValpoAthletics.com.