There wasn’t much drama in the closing minutes on Sunday afternoon at the Athletics-Recreation Center, and for all the right reasons for the Valparaiso University men’s basketball team.
In both recent memory and throughout the program’s proud history, signature wins have featured climactic finishes or furious comebacks. Not only did Valpo knock No. 25 Drake from the ranks of the undefeated on Sunday, but it did so in convincing fashion, pulling away for a 74-57 victory over an opponent that entered the day as one of three teams in the nation without a loss.
Head coach Matt Lottich’s young group, filled with talented freshmen and sophomores, continued to grow up before our very eyes, as the program earned its second victory over a ranked opponent since 1998, both during Lottich’s tenure.
How It Happened
- A day after a gut-wrenching finish that saw a valiant effort come up three points short against the Bulldogs (18-1, 9-1), Valpo immediately showed it came to play again on Sunday. Freshman Sheldon Edwards (West Palm Beach, Fla. / Palm Beach Lakes [TLAP Sports Academy]) started the scoring with a 3-pointer to kick off a game-opening 7-0 run.
- After Valpo had pushed the early edge to 9-2, Drake came back with 10 of the next 12 points to jump in front 12-11 by the game’s first media stoppage. That’s when freshman Jacob Ognacevic (Sheboygan, Wis. / Sheboygan Area Lutheran) scored. And he scored again, and then scored some more. Valpo went on a 10-0 run with Ognacevic accounting for eight of those points, including a pair of old-fashioned 3-point plays. Valpo led from that point forward en route to the signature victory.
- Valpo owned a nine-point advantage after the rookie-led surge, then senior Eron Gordon (Indianapolis, Ind. / Cathedral [Seton Hall]) connected from beyond the arc to give the hosts their first double-figure lead of the day at 24-14 with 7:55 left in the half.
- Senior Mileek McMillan (Merrillville, Ind. / Merrillville) came off the bench and dropped in a 3 with 4:50 remaining in the half to up the lead to 11. Drake chipped it down to seven, but Valpo had its largest cushion of the game going into the break when Daniel Sackey (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada / Thornlea) accelerated to the hoop for a layup to close out the half and extend the edge to 36-24.
- Valpo’s stingy defense continued early in the second half, propelling an 8-0 run that bolstered a 10-point lead to a 44-26 advantage. The Bulldogs rattled off five straight to cut it to 13, but Valpo opened up its first 20-point edge of the day after a Zion Morgan (Chicago, Ill. / Kenwood [Wabash Valley / UNLV]) steal led to a thunderous dunk by Edwards that will compete with Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady for airtime on Sunday night’s SportsCenter.
- Drake battled back to within 10 with just over four minutes remaining, but Gordon responded with a big play to provide additional breathing room. The senior completed an old-fashion 3-point play to up the edge to 13.
- Valpo continued to get enough stops to sustain a double-figure advantage, and Donovan Clay (Alton, Ill. / Alton) and Edwards each made a pair of clutch free throws in the final two minutes. Krikke provided the final exclamation point with 54 second remaining, throwing down a dunk that extended the lead to 17 and ignited the celebration on the Valpo bench.
Inside the Game
- Valpo has won two of its last three home games against nationally-ranked opponents and now holds a 2-1 mark when hosting ranked teams during Matt Lottich’s tenure. Prior to Lottich taking the helm, Valpo had not defeated a Top 25 foe on its home court since the “Lutheran Miracle” victory over Notre Dame in December 1988.
- The other aforementioned win came in Lottich’s first season in nail-biting fashion as Valpo edged No. 21/25 Rhode Island 65-62.
- Sunday marked only the fourth time in program history (since the Associated Press Top 25 poll began in 1949) that Valpo knocked off an AP Top 25 team. The program’s other ranked victories were the 1998 NCAA Tournament vs. Ole Miss, the 1988 “Lutheran Miracle” vs. Notre Dame and the 2016 win over Rhode Island.
- Sunday’s 17-point triumph featured the largest margin of victory in program history against a nationally-ranked team. Valpo’s previous three ranked victories all came by three points or fewer with the separation over those three games totaling seven points.
- Valpo has as many victories over ranked teams in Matt Lottich’s tenure (fifth season) as it did in the previous 66 years combined. Valpo improved to 4-69 all-time against ranked opponents on Sunday. The team was 2-65 prior to Lottich’s arrival and is 2-4 since with one of the four losses coming by three points vs. Drake on Saturday.
- Sunday marked a rare instance of Valpo playing an undefeated team this late in the season. Drake’s 18-0 mark entering Sunday is believed to be the best unblemished record by a Valpo opponent since DePaul was 20-0 entering a 1979-80 matchup. The Brown & Gold were 0-8 against teams with an undefeated record of 7-0 or better since the start of the 1999-2000 season prior to Sunday’s upset.
- Krikke finished as Valpo’s leading scorer with 15 points. True to form, four of Valpo’s top five scorers were freshmen or sophomores on a day where one of the nation’s oldest teams, a junior- and senior-laden Drake squad, sat on the opposing bench.
- Ognacevic was in double figures for the second consecutive day with 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting, while Edwards also poured in 11 points to go along with five rebounds. Gordon finished one point and one rebound shy of his second career double-double.
- Clay was a beast on the boards, pulling down a career-high 14 rebounds while coming within a point of a double-double. The sophomore’s previous rebounding watermark was 13 on Dec. 19 of this season at Toledo. This marked his third-career double figure rebound game, all this year. Seven of Clay’s nine points came at the free-throw line.
- Valpo made 24 of 29 free throws (82.8 percent) and outscored Drake 24-9 at the charity line.
- It was on the defensive end where Valpo shined the brightest, holding a team that entered the day averaging 82.8 points per game to a season-low 57, 11 points below Drake’s previous season floor. Valpo held the Bulldogs to just 2-of-15 (13.3 percent) from 3-point range including an 0-of-8 clip after halftime.
- The 17-point margin of victory tied with two others (February 2020 vs. Southern Illinois, January 2018 vs. Drake) for Valpo’s most lopsided regular-season league win since joining the Missouri Valley Conference.
- Drake entered the day in elite company, joining Gonzaga and Baylor as the only undefeated teams in the nation. Coincidentally, the two remaining unbeatens both feature Valpo connections as former Valpo head coach Scott Drew is at the helm for the Bears and former Valpo assistant coach Roger Powell is on staff for the Bulldogs.
- The victory came absent a usual starter as Valpo played without freshman sharpshooter Connor Barrett, who was sidelined with an injury. Edwards made his third career start and first since the second game of the season on Dec. 1 at UIC.
Valpo (7-12, 4-6) will attempt to sustain its momentum on Wednesday night as Bradley comes to town for a 6 p.m. tip at the ARC. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3 in addition to the Valpo Sports Network (95.1 FM WVUR, TuneIn Radio app). Links to live coverage will be available on ValpoAthletics.com.