All victories are sweet, but this one felt extra satisfying for the Valparaiso University men’s basketball team.
After a lopsided loss against a talented Loyola team on Wednesday night at the Athletics-Recreation Center, head coach Matt Lottich’s squad showed resilience by putting together a complete showing to beat host Illinois State 69-60 on Saturday evening at Redbird Arena. Led by double-doubles by both Donovan Clay (Alton, Ill. / Alton) and Eron Gordon (Indianapolis, Ind. / Cathedral [Seton Hall]), Valpo never trailed and played well on both ends of the court en route to snapping a five-game skid.
How It Happened
- Valpo played with energy from the outset, setting the tone on the defensive end early in the game by holding Illinois State off the scoreboard until nearly three minutes into the contest. The Brown & Gold built up an 8-0 edge in that time as Connor Barrett (Chicago, Ill. / Loyola Academy) and Gordon drained early 3-pointers.
- Barrett knocked in his second 3 of the day with 10:04 left in the first half as the freshman sharpshooter extended the Valpo lead to nine. Valpo continued to play strong team defense, limiting Illinois State to just eight points in the first 10 minutes of the game. A moment later, Barrett drained another trey, this time on a second-chance opportunity that accounted for his third 3 in the first 11 minutes.
- Freshman Sheldon Edwards (West Palm Beach, Fla. / Palm Beach Lakes [TLAP Sports Academy] contributed to the 3-point act with 8:34 left in the first half, swishing his second triple of the night to open up Valpo’s first double-figure lead at 23-13.
- Gordon played a quality first half on both ends of the court, swiping a steal and feeding Clay for a transition dunk to make it 27-18 with 6:30 remaining before the break.
- The Brown & Gold put together another string of flawless defense, holding Illinois State off the scoreboard for the final 3:51 of the half. An aggressive take by Clay on the offensive end opened the lead to 13 with five seconds to go, then a strong contest by Clay on the defensive end helped Valpo retain the 36-23 advantage into the locker room.
- The Redbirds scored nine of the first 11 points after halftime to trim the lead to six in a stretch that saw sophomore Ben Krikke (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada / Jasper Place) saddled with his third foul. Valpo weathered that storm as Gordon’s fastbreak 3-pointer with 11:48 remaining expanded the lead back to 13, right where it was at halftime.
- After the under-12 media timeout, Illinois State made another push. DJ Horne continued a strong second half after a quiet opening 20 minutes, and his jumper with 9:04 remaining capped an 8-0 run and whittled the lead all the way down to five.
- However, Gordon made a big shot with 8:29 to go, stemming the tide by converting a 3. Clay continued to play well on both ends of the court, and Barrett splashed in his fourth triple.
- However, Illinois State had the margin back down to five with 3:30 on the clock before Krikke hit his lone field goal of a rare quiet scoring night. That was a big shot as the midrange jumper came with the shot-clock expiring and expanded the cushion to seven with 2:14 remaining.
- Illinois State cut the lead back down to five, but a crafty move by Matt Lottich allowed Valpo to get Steven Helm (Valparaiso, Ind. / Valparaiso [Carroll], a 94 percent free-throw shooter both in high school and during his NAIA season, into the game for a crucial one-and-one. The foul shot specialist did his job, helping Valpo ice an eventual nine-point win.
Inside the Game
- Clay and Gordon became the first Valpo tandem to have a double-double in the same game since Alec Peters and Tevonn Walker on Jan. 16, 2017 vs. Green Bay. Valpo had more double-doubles on Saturday (2) than it did in the first 12 games of the season combined (1).
- Clay enjoyed his second career double-double, with both coming this season. His first occurred in the Dec. 19 game at Toledo. On Saturday, the sophomore finished with 20 points and 12 boards, one carom shy of his career-high 13 in the aforementioned game against the Rockets.
- Clay’s 20-point output was his third this season and the fifth of his career. He also reached double figures for the seventh time this year and 26th time in his Valpo tenure. The 20-point outburst helped him snap out of a rare slump, during which he was held to seven points or fewer in three straight games.
- Clay’s 10 made field goals were a season high, one shy of his career high 11, which occurred on Feb. 25 of last season vs. Missouri State. The sophomore enjoyed his first career 20-point double-double, joining a short list that also includes Javon Freeman-Liberty, Derrik Smits and Alec Peters as the four players with “20&10” games during the Matt Lottich Era.
- Gordon has had five or more rebounds in five straight games, and seven or more in three of his last four. He has also scored in double figures in four straight contests after doing so once in the season’s first nine games. Gordon matched a season best with 14 points, his second straight 14-point output, to go along with 10 boards on Saturday.
- Over the last four games, Gordon is averaging 13.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game to lead the team in both areas. Prior to this four-game stretch, he was averaging 5.4 points and 3.6 rebounds per outing over the first nine games of the season.
- Gordon added a season-high three steals and a career-high five assists in one of his best performances in a Valpo uniform.
- Barrett’s four 3s helped him finish with 12 points, his fifth double-figure output as a freshman. The rookie already has four games with three or more 3-pointers. Edwards made two 3s and finished with nine points.
- Valpo prevailed despite the fact that Krikke, who entered the day as the team’s leading scorer, was held to a season-low four points and just one made field goal.
- Sackey dished out eight assists, tying a season high set in the Dec. 9 win over SIUE. He finished one helper shy of his career high, which came on Dec. 18 of last season at High Point.
- Valpo outrebounded Illinois State 42-32, snapping a stretch of being outrebounded in seven straight games. Valpo enjoyed its largest advantage on the glass since also going +10 on Jan. 18 of last season vs. Indiana State. The 42 rebounds were one away from Valpo’s highest single-game total in league play since joining The Valley and it marked just the third time Valpo had 42 rebounds or more in an MVC contest.
- Valpo secured 11 offensive boards and outdid the Redbirds on second-chance points 13-5.
- Valpo displayed good ball movement throughout the game, matching a season high with 18 assists on 25 made baskets. Valpo improved to 4-1 when the team has 15 or more assists this season compared to an 0-8 record when the team has fewer than 15 assists.
- DJ Horne led three Illinois State players in double figures with a 19-point effort, 17 of which came after halftime.
- Valpo continued its success in the head-to-head series, notching its sixth straight win over Illinois State. The triumph came over a Redbirds team that was fresh off a 71-56 upset of defending MVC champion Bradley on Wednesday.
- The win snapped a five-game losing streak and an eight-game road skid, while at the same time helping Valpo prevail in its first conference road game of the season for the third consecutive year.
Valpo (4-9, 1-3) and Illinois State (5-9, 2-6) will be right back at it on Sunday evening as the Brown & Gold looks to sweep the weekend series. The game will tip off at 5 p.m. CT and will be broadcast on Marquee Sports Network, ESPN3, 95.1 FM Valparaiso and the Valpo Sports Network TuneIn Radio app. Links to live video, audio and stats are available on ValpoAthletics.com.