An unconventional but successful version of the home-run ball, a go-ahead 3-pointer by senior John Kiser (Noblesville, Ind. / Noblesville) and a clutch effort at the free-throw line were the key ingredients that helped create a 66-61 victory for the Valparaiso University men’s basketball team over defending Missouri Valley Conference regular-season champion Drake on Saturday afternoon at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
How It Happened
- Drake scored the first five points and owned the edge in the game’s early stages, but Mileek McMillan (Merrillville, Ind. / Merrillville) tied the contest with a layup at the 16:15 mark to make it 7-7. A McMillan offensive rebound extended the next possession, and Valpo eventually inched ahead for the first time with 15:38 on the clock thanks to a pair of made free throws.
- A slim 15-14 edge enlarged to seven when Valpo ran off six straight points including a trey by Eron Gordon (Indianapolis, Ind. / Cathedral) and a 3-for-3 foul-line stint by Donovan Clay (Alton, Ill. / Alton) that made it 21-14 Valpo with 11:22 remaining in the half.
- Drake had six straight points late in the half to cause a six-point lead to vanish and cause a 32-all stalemate. Ben Krikke (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada / Jasper Place) utilized a nifty shot fake to create a dunk with 45 seconds left in the half, but the Bulldogs responded with a slam of their own to go back to even at 34-34 heading into halftime.
- Valpo came out of the break cold, failing to score for nearly five minutes to open the second stanza. During that time, Drake ran off six straight points to snag a 40-34 advantage. Kiser ignited the Brown & Gold with a trey at the 15:23 mark for the team’s first points of the half.
- The hosts spent much of the second half attempting to erase the hole created by the early-half run. The Bulldogs were still in front at 55-48 after an Anthony Murphy dunk with 6:44 to play, but Gordon provided one of the game’s key baskets with a trey at the 6:24 mark. Clay followed with a 3 of his own, but Valpo wouldn’t hold its first lead of the second half until Kiser hit the biggest shot of the night with 3:01 remaining.
- Kiser’s triple put Valpo ahead 60-59, but Drake quickly regained the edge in a back-and-forth finish. After trailing 61-60 with 1:16 remaining, Valpo won this game the same place they struggled in the last one – at the free-throw line. Clay and Javon Freeman-Liberty (Chicago, Ill. / Whitney Young) went a perfect 6-for-6 at the stripe down the stretch, accounting for the final six points of the contest.
- Valpo ran a “home-run play” that was well covered, but Kiser chucked a long pass into the frontcourt on a baseline inbounds and Freeman-Liberty used a lightning-quick burst to track it down to help secure the triumph.
Inside the Game
- After scoring a career-high 21 in Valpo’s first MVC home game, Clay followed with an 18-point effort on Saturday. His showing was highlighted by a 7-for-7 performance from the free-throw line, where he entered the afternoon 4-for-13 for the season.
- His free-throw shooting contributed to Valpo’s biggest statistical strength in the win over the Bulldogs (12-5, 2-2). The team went 18-of-20 at the line, its third performance of the season at 90 percent or better, two of which have come in the last three games. Valpo improved to 6-1 when shooting free throws at a clip of 70 percent or better.
- Clay also squeezed a team-high seven rebounds, his third straight game with seven boards or more.
- Freeman-Liberty dished out a team-best five assists to go along with 15 points and five rebounds, his 17th straight game with a double-figure scoring output.
- Kiser and McMillan each had three steals. McMillan’s figure marked a career high, while Kiser matched a personal best and turned in his second straight three-steal effort. Winning the turnover battle 18-12 helped Valpo survive a 33.3 percent shooting night.
- The Valpo defense behind the 3-point arc also played a key role in the outcome, as the team held Drake to 2-of-20 (10 percent). It was the squad’s second-best effort in that area this season after holding Central Michigan to 1-of-17 (5.9 percent) from 3.
Valpo (9-8, 2-2) will hit the road again for a Wednesday matchup with UNI in Cedar Falls, Iowa that begins at 7 p.m. on ESPN+.