Southern Illinois scored seemingly at will early in the game, but the Valparaiso University men’s basketball team stepped up defensively when the stakes were the highest on Sunday night at the Banterra Center in Carbondale, Ill.
Neither team surrendered a point over the final three minutes, 39 seconds allowing a 3-pointer by Jacob Ognacevic (Sheboygan, Wis. / Sheboygan Area Lutheran) with 4:03 remaining to stand as the game-winning shot in Valpo’s 66-65 road triumph. The win elevated Valpo into a tie for fifth in the league standings and moved the team a step closer to securing a first-round bye for the upcoming Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
How It Happened
- Valpo came out of the gate hitting shots at a high clip, as the Brown & Gold scored on each of their first four possessions. Sheldon Edwards (West Palm Beach, Fla. / Palm Beach Lakes [TLAP Sports Academy]) knocked in a 3 and Ben Krikke (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada / Jasper Place) had a pair of mid-range jumpers to highlight the early offense. On the flip side, SIU matched Valpo shot-for-shot, and a 3-pointer by Trent Brown at the 16:40 mark put the Salukis in front 10-9.
- Eron Gordon (Indianapolis, Ind. / Cathedral [Seton Hall]) nailed a transition triple with 15:15 to go in the half to put Valpo back in front, and an early shooting barrage continued on both sides. Krikke buried a 3 to tie the game at 17 with 12:51 to go in the half, and later a 6-0 spurt helped Valpo to a 30-24 lead with 5:52 on the clock.
- Ben Harvey stroked a pair of 3s, including one that sliced the six-point SIU deficit in half with five and a half minutes remaining in the opening stanza. That sparked an 8-0 run that put the Salukis up two, then a pair of pull-up jumpers by Zion Morgan (Chicago, Ill. / Kenwood [Wabash Valley / UNLV]) helped Valpo battle back to even on two occasions.
- Southern Illinois scored the final five points of the half to take a five-point edge into the locker room after a half where neither team owned a lead of more than six.
- The Salukis held a seven-point advantage two minutes into the second half when Gordon kept a possession alive with a crucial offensive rebound, then found Edwards for an open triple that pulled Valpo to within four.
- The SIU cushion fluctuated between three and five from the 17:20 mark of the second half to the 7:15 mark – a span of over 10 minutes where Southern Illinois could not grab a lead of more than five but Valpo could not get any closer than three.
- Finally, the Brown & Gold got over the hump when Donovan Clay (Alton, Ill. / Alton) drained a 3 on an assist from Krikke to reduce the lead to two, then Ognacevic converted a layup to tie the game at 59 with 6:30 on the clock.
- Clay made a go-ahead jumper with 5:53 remaining to give Valpo its first lead since the 3:30 mark of the first half. The Salukis scored to tie the game, but the Sheboygan Sharpshooter came through with his first trey of the night with 4:03 to go to put Valpo ahead 66-63, shortly before an SIU basket cut the lead to one.
- Valpo got stop after stop down the stretch, including a key blocked shot by Clay with 41 seconds to go. Southern Illinois began its final possession with 10 seconds remaining, and pushed it into the forecourt for a timeout with seven ticks on the clock. A crafty use of Valpo’s final foul to give forced a baseline inbounds with 4.9 remaining, and good defense in the lane made the potential game-winning look tough on Steven Verplancken as his last-second layup was off the mark. Gordon squeezed the final board as Valpo prevailed in thrilling fashion.
Inside the Game
- Ognacevic and Clay shared team-high honors with 15 points apiece, leading a collection of six Valpo players who scored eight points or more in a balanced effort.
- Clay led the squad in scoring for the team-most eighth time this year, while Ognacevic has now topped the team on four occasions. Clay finished in double figures for the 12th time this season and the 31st time in his career, while Ogancevic has scored 10 points or more in eight instances during his first collegiate campaign.
- Ognacevic has scored in double figures four times in his last seven games. His 15 points marked the highest output against a Division-I opponent during his collegiate career, second only to his career high of 20 vs. Judson on Dec. 6. He played 22 minutes, his season high vs. a D-I foe and just his second time playing over 20 minutes all season. The freshman equaled a career best with seven made field goals as his 15 points came on an efficient 7-of-10 shooting.
- Clay made plays on both ends of the court, swiping two steals, blocking a shot, securing a team-high six rebounds and handing out four assists against no turnovers. Morgan shared the team lead on the glass with six rebounds, his second straight game with five or more.
- Krikke and Gordon had nine points apiece, while Edwards and Morgan contributed eight each.
- Valpo won the rebounding battle for the second straight game, enjoying a 32-27 advantage on the glass. Valpo pulled down 12 offensive rebounds and held a 15-3 edge in second-chance points. The dozen offensive rebounds marked the team’s most in the last nine games.
- Valpo improved to 5-1 when winning the rebounding battle. The squad’s only defeat when owning the edge on the boards was the narrow loss at No. 22 Loyola on Wednesday.
- The Brown & Gold committed just six turnovers, the team’s second lowest total of the season behind five in the close loss vs. No. 25 Drake on Feb. 6.
- The Salukis made eight 3s in the opening half, but Valpo held them to just 1-of-7 from long range over the final 20 minutes.
- This marked Valpo’s fourth road win in conference play this season, its highest win total in league road games since joining The Valley. Valpo has an opportunity to finish above .500 on the road in conference play with a victory on Monday.
- This was Valpo’s second straight game decided by two points or fewer and its first one-point game of the season. This marked the team’s first game decided by the slimmest of margins since the one-point overtime win vs. Loyola in last year’s MVC quarterfinals.
- The 66 points were Valpo’s fewest in a victory this season.
- Valpo improved to 2-10 this year when trailing at halftime, erasing a halftime deficit for the first time since Jan. 28 vs. Bradley.
Valpo (9-15, 6-9 MVC) and Southern Illinois (10-11, 4-11) will lock horns again on Monday night at 6 p.m. at the Banterra Center in Carbondale. The game will air on The Valley on ESPN Exclusive (ESPN+) and on the Valpo Sports Network (TuneIn Radio app; 95.1 FM Valparaiso). Links to live coverage can be found on ValpoAthletics.com.