Depth was the name of the game for the Valparaiso University men’s basketball team on Saturday night at the University of Northern Iowa. Valpo received contributions from a variety of sources on its way to achieving a slice of program history with the team’s first-ever victory at UNI, a 70-57 triumph at the McLeod Center that snapped a 14-game skid in Cedar Falls.
How It Happened
- Mileek McMillan (Merrillville, Ind. / Merrillville) returned to the starting lineup and provided a lift with five early points. He canned a triple, and fellow forward Ben Krikke (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada / Jasper Place) swished another to help Valpo establish an early 10-5 edge.
- The Panthers trailed by just three at 12-9 with 15:27 left of first-half time, but that’s when Valpo embarked on its first sizable run. Krikke and Jacob Ognacevic (Sheboygan, Wis. / Sheboygan Area Lutheran) each hit from distance, Zion Morgan’s (Chicago, Ill. / Kenwood [Wabash Valley / UNLV]) 15-footer accounted for his first basket of the evening and Goodnews Kpegeol (St. Paul, Minn. / North [Southwest Mississippi CC / Kansas State]) buried a corner 3 to make it an 11-0 run and a 14-point rout with 10:18 on the clock.
- While the offense flowed smoothly on one end of the court, perhaps Valpo’s best work during the aforementioned burst came on the defensive end. UNI didn’t score for well over six minutes and struggled to get open looks as the Brown & Gold protected the rim and got out on shooters effectively.
- A transition triple by McMillan at the 6:40 mark expanded the lead to 15, and a contested Daniel Sackey (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada / Thornlea) trey late in the shot clock with 4:47 remaining in the half made it a 16-point cushion.
- Freshman Bowen Born did his best to keep the hosts in the game, but Valpo still owned a 12-point edge at 39-27 through 20 minutes. Born accounted for 15 of the team’s 27 points in a half where nine of UNI’s 10 buckets came in unassisted fashion. The Panthers missed 12 of their 14 3-point tries before the break.
- Matt Lottich’s team kept its foot on the gas early in the second half, scoring the first four points to boost the lead back to 16. Key UNI players Austin Phyfe and Trae Berhow heated up in the second half after first halves that were nearly as frigid as the sub-zero temperatures, but Valpo sustained its balanced contributions on offense.
- Morgan hit several step-back jumpers from the foul line, then Kpegeol and Ognacevic added to the 3-point barrage, helping Valpo bolster the edge to 17 at 63-46 with 8:37 to play.
- A Donovan Clay (Alton, Ill. / Alton) 3 helped the lead reach as high as 20 in a game that was not even as close as the 13-point final margin would indicate.
- On a night that featured mostly crisp offense, Valpo’s worst stretch came over the final six minutes, in part due to an emphasis on managing the clock. Valpo was stuck on 70 points for the final six minutes of the contest, but the Panthers made up only six points in that span.
Inside the Game
- Valpo snapped a 14-game losing streak in games at UNI, although 11 of those 14 losses came before 1992. The Brown & Gold had dropped each of the last three overall meetings between the two foes, all by double figures, before recording the double-figure win on Saturday.
- This marked Valpo’s most lopsided win in the all-time series with the Panthers as the Brown & Gold climbed to 4-27 all-time vs. UNI.
- This marked Valpo’s most lopsided road win since coasting past High Point 87-72 on Dec. 18, 2019. The 13-point margin of victory on Saturday was Valpo’s largest in a road conference game since winning by 16 at Illinois State in 2018-19.
- No Valpo player scored more than 12 points, but six finished with eight or more including four in double figures. Krikke and Ognacevic shared team-high honors with a dozen apiece.
- Ognacevic finished in double figures for the seventh time during his freshman season including the third time in the last four games, while Krikke had his 15th double-figure output as a sophomore and his sixth in the last eight.
- Ognacevic saw increased playing time, receiving 19 minutes of run, his highest total in MVC play and highest overall since Dec. 17 vs. Purdue Northwest. In addition, the freshman was a team-best +19 in the plus/minus column on Saturday.
- Morgan thrived on both ends of the court, posting 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting. He reached double figures for the first time in a Valpo uniform, surpassing his previous career high of seven. He added two assists and a steal while finishing second on the team with a plus/minus of +15.
- The fourth member of the Brown & Gold in double figures was McMillan, who made four of his seven shots to finish with 10 points. He reached the double-figure threshold for the first time since the season opener at Vanderbilt.
- Valpo received strong play at the point guard position throughout the evening. Sackey chipped in nine points on 4-of-6 shooting. Not only was Valpo’s scoring balanced, but the assist column was as well, with six different players registering multiple helpers.
- Kpegeol was another key contributor, shooting 3-of-5 including a pair of made 3s on his way to a line that featured eight points, two assists, a steal and a blocked shot. Kpegeol made two 3s on Saturday after having just one all season entering the contest. Saturday’s eight points marked his highest scoring output in conference play.
- Of the six players who scored eight points or more on Saturday, only one ranked in the top six on the team in scoring (including both active and inactive players) entering the weekend. While their teammates handled most of the scoring load, key scorers Eron Gordon (Indianapolis, Ind. / Cathedral [Seton Hall]) and Clay played important roles on the glass, sharing the team lead with six rebounds apiece.
- The Valpo shooting was a sight to behold, as the Brown & Gold finished at a season-best 55.1 percent clip from the field while going 11-of-24 (45.7 percent) from behind the arc. That field goal percentage was the team’s top mark since shooting 58.6 percent in last year’s Senior Night win over Missouri State.
- The 55.1 percent clip was Valpo’s best field-goal percentage in a road contest since shooting 56.3 percent at Santa Clara on Dec. 18, 2017. It also marked the team’s best road shooting performance in a league game since joining The Valley.
- The Panthers shot just 33.9 percent, the lowest clip by a Valpo opponent this season. Valpo boasted its best showing in terms of field-goal percentage defense since holding Southern Illinois to 23.6 percent on Feb. 12 of last season.
- This was Valpo’s best road game in terms of field-goal percentage defense since holding Drake to 33.9 percent on Feb. 24, 2018.
- This was the second time this season Valpo held a Division-I opponent to 57 points or fewer, and both have come in the last three games. This marked the fewest points Valpo has given up in a road game since holding Illinois State to 53 on Feb. 5, 2019.
- Another number that attests to Valpo’s depth is bench points, where the guests outscored the hosts 36-6 on Saturday.
- Perhaps the lone bugaboo on a successful Saturday was the offensive glass, where Valpo was outdone by the eye-popping count of 14-0.
Valpo (8-13, 5-7 MVC) will clash with UNI (6-14, 4-10) again on Sunday night at 6 p.m., a game that will be televised in the Chicago TV market on NBC Sports Chicago while also being available on ESPN+. The hometown radio call will be available on 95.1 FM WVUR and the Valpo Sports Network TuneIn Radio page. Links to live video, audio and stats are available on ValpoAthletics.com.