The Valparaiso University men’s basketball team continued its trend of putting nationally-ranked opponents on notice on Wednesday night at Gentile Arena, coming within an eyelash of handing No. 22/23 Loyola its first home conference loss in exactly two years, but the host Ramblers escaped with a 54-52 victory. Valpo has played three games against nationally-ranked teams this season, earning one victory in addition to a pair of losses by three points or fewer.
How It Happened
- Valpo played excellent defense from the outset, and Sheldon Edwards (West Palm Beach, Fla. / Palm Beach Lakes [TLAP Sports Academy]) knocked in a 3-pointer at the 15:07 mark of the first half to put Valpo ahead 9-7.
- The Ramblers (19-4, 14-2) didn’t score from the 16:31 mark to the 9:27 mark, a drought of over seven minutes. During that time, Valpo built up an 11-7 edge in a low-scoring battle.
- Goodnews Kpegeol (St. Paul, Minn. / North [Southwest Mississippi CC / Kansas State]) swished a 3 with 8:58 left in the half to put Valpo up four, and the lead fluctuated between three and six until the Ramblers closed to within two on a 3-pointer by Cooper Kaifes with 5:18 left in the half. Zion Morgan (Chicago, Ill. / Kenwood [Wabash Valley / UNLV]) responded with his first made 3 of the season and added another basket, and later Donovan Clay (Alton, Ill. / Alton) connected from distance to bolster the lead to nine with 1:18 to go in the half.
- Loyola took a bite out of the deficit in the final minute, creating a pair of opens 3s in a half where open looks were hard to come by for the Ramblers. They buried both to cut the Valpo edge to three at 29-26.
- The lead went back-and-forth early in the second half, and Jacob Ognacevic (Sheboygan, Wis. / Sheboygan Area Lutheran) came off the bench to hit a go-ahead 3 at the 13:09 mark, snapping a 35-all deadlock.
- Morgan flipped a one-point deficit into a two-point lead for the Brown & Gold with his second 3 of the night at the 4:58 mark. Lucas Williamson hit from 3 to create a four-point edge with 3:35 left, and Loyola expanded its largest lead of the game to six a moment later.
- Facing a six-point deficit with under two minutes remaining, Valpo made a major push. Kpegeol went to the rim for a quick bucket with 1:23 left to cut the lead to four. Edwards made the defensive play of the game with a steal and score with 54 seconds remaining to make it 54-52, then the Valpo freshman came up with another big play on the ensuing Loyola possession to turn away a shot with one second on the shot clock, forcing a violation.
- Krikke’s potential game-tying jumper with three seconds left was off the mark, but Kpegeol appeared to tie the game and send it to overtime with a last-second put-back. However, Kpegeol was called for a foul and the Ramblers escaped with the two-point win.
Inside the Game
- Morgan poured in a team-high 15 points, establishing a career high while reaching double figures for the second time in the last three games. His performance came on an efficient 6-of-9 shooting and also included five rebounds, three assists and one steal.
- Kpegeol poured in 10 points, matching a career high established in the Dec. 9 win vs. SIUE. He did so on an efficient 5-of-7 shooting while grabbing four rebounds and making plays on the defensive end.
- Valpo has played four games against teams that have been ranked at some point in the season this year and led at halftime in all four. Purdue was unranked at the time of the matchup but later earned an AP Top 25 ranking, while Valpo owned halftime leads in both games vs. No. 25 Drake and on Wednesday vs. No. 22/23 Loyola.
- Valpo entered the game 0-41 all-time in road games against nationally-ranked opponents, coming close to accomplishing program history. The team was 2-65 all-time against AP Top 25 teams before Matt Lottich took over as head coach. Since he took over the program, the team is 2-5 with two of the five losses coming by three points or fewer this season.
- Loyola narrowly extended its home winning streak to 20 and haven’t lost an MVC home game in exactly two calendar years (Feb. 17, 2019). The Ramblers are unblemished at home this season and 32-2 in MVC home games since the start of the 2017-18 season.
- Valpo won the rebounding battle 30-29, its first time winning the rebounding battle in the last nine contests. Clay topped the team with seven rebounds.
- This matchup was a much different story than the first meeting between the two teams, when Loyola won 75-39 in Valpo.
Valpo (8-15, 5-9 MVC) will play twice at Southern Illinois this weekend, starting on Sunday, Feb. 21 at 4 p.m. The game will air on Marquee Sports Network and on ESPN+.