The Valparaiso University men’s basketball program has never been so happy to see a date come off the schedule.
A Missouri Valley Conference regular-season slate that started with far too frequent schedule changes finished with the best schedule news of all: There will be no Valpo game on Thursday night in St. Louis after the Brown & Gold earned a first-round bye at the State Farm MVC Tournament by dispatching Indiana State 70-58 on Saturday.
The program has unlocked another new achievement, garnering an opening-round bye at Arch Madness for the first time since joining the prestigious Missouri Valley Conference. Valpo flipped the script from Friday’s defeat with a convincing Saturday triumph, cementing the No. 6 seed for the upcoming league tournament. Head coach Matt Lottich’s program sustained its forward trajectory by continuing to earn a higher seed in the MVC Tournament with each passing season.
How It Happened
- Valpo stumbled offensively in the early going as the team was held scoreless for the first four minutes. By the time the chairback fans were finally able to take their seats, Indiana State held an early 6-0 edge. However, a Jacob Ognacevic (Sheboygan, Wis. / Sheboygan) triple immediately sliced the deficit in half and began a six-point burst that leveled the score.
- The figurative lid that covered Valpo’s basket in the game’s early stages was moved to the Indiana State hoop, as Valpo crafted a 17-0 run to vault to an 11-point lead. By the time Cooper Neese’s 3 found the well with 9:42 left in the half, the Sycamores had endured a seven minute, 43 second scoring drought.
- Goodnews Kpegeol (St. Paul, Minn. / North [Southwest Mississippi CC / Kansas State]) banked in a 3 at the 7:03 mark of the first half to lift Valpo’s lead back to 10 at 24-14, and the good news just kept coming for Valpo as Kpegeol scored again 40 seconds later to give the hosts their largest lead to that point.
- Daniel Sackey’s (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada / Thornlea) 3 made it a 15-point game, then Eron Gordon (Indianapolis, Ind. / Cathedral [Seton Hall]) connected from distance to provide the Brown & Gold with their first 20-point edge. A buzzer-beating put back by Ognacevic closed the half with Valpo up 39-18.
- Valpo embarked on an 11-0 run early in the second half to break the contest wide open and create a 28-point cushion.
- It wouldn’t be a Valley game if anything came easy, as Greg Lansing’s squad battled back to trim 20 points off the deficit thanks in part to a 13-0 run, climbing to within eight with 6:16 to go.
- Valpo ran off the next seven points, the final three of which came on an Ognacevic bullseye to up the lead back to 15 with just 3:30 on the clock. The Brown & Gold led by double figures the rest of the way in the 12-point triumph.
Inside the Game
- Valpo earned a top-six seed at Arch Madness by virtue of the victory, continuing the program’s climb since joining America’s Renaissance Conference. Valpo has earned a better tournament seed than the previous year in each of its four Missouri Valley Conference seasons.
- Kpegeol shattered his previous rebounding career high of seven by pulling down 11 boards to go along with his 12 points. He achieved his first double-double in a Valpo uniform and became the fourth Valpo player with a double-double this year, joining Donovan Clay (2), Eron Gordon and Ben Krikke. The dozen points also represented a personal watermark for Kpegeol, who cracked double figures for the third time this season.
- Ognacevic continued his efficient scoring, going 7-of-9 from the field and 5-of-6 from 3. He totaled a game-high 19 points in just 25 minutes, rewriting his season best against a Division-I opponent and finishing a single point shy of his personal best that came in December vs. Judson.
- Ognacevic became the first Valpo player to hit five 3s in a game against a Division-I opponent this season and joined fellow freshman Connor Barrett as the only members of the squad with five triples in any contest this year. Ognacevic also became just the fifth MVC player to shoot 83.3 percent or better with at least four attempts from 3 in a single game this season.
- Zion Morgan (Chicago, Ill. / Kenwood [Wabash Valley / UNLV]) poured in 15 points while also securing five boards and handing out five assists against no turnovers. Ben Krikke (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada / Jasper Place) made it four Valpo players in double figures with a 14-point, six-rebound effort.
- Valpo outscored Indiana State 49-3 in bench points with the trio of Kpegeol, Ognacevic and Morgan accounting for 46 of those 49. That reserve group outscored the remainder of Valpo’s roster 46-24 and accounted for two-thirds of the team’s scoring.
- Valpo won the rebounding battle 40-22, a rebounding margin of +18 that marked the team’s best in any game since Dec. 29, 2018 vs. Purdue Northwest. Saturday represented Valpo’s best rebounding margin against a Division-I opponent since holding a 32-rebound edge vs. Samford on Nov. 21, 2017.
- This game was the latest example of what a difference a day makes, as Valpo led by as many as 28 and won by 12 a day after a 15-point setback to the Sycamores. Valpo shot 54 percent, its second-highest clip of the season, a day after shooting a season-low 29.1 percent.
- The Brown & Gold went 8-of-14 from 3-point range for a season-best percentage of 57.1.
- Valpo secured a home record of .500 or better for the 29th consecutive season. In addition, the team improved to 26-4 in home finales over the last 30 years.
- The Brown & Gold secured the double-figure victory despite equaling a season high with 19 turnovers, a number previously reached in an early-season game vs. Purdue Northwest.
- The hosts handed the Sycamores (14-9, 11-7) just their second loss in their last 12 games.
Sixth-seeded Valpo (10-17, 7-11) will take on third-seeded Missouri State in the quarterfinal round of the State Farm MVC Tournament on Friday at 8:08 p.m. CT in a game that will air on the MVC TV Network, which includes NBC Sports Chicago. The winner of that matchup will advance to Saturday’s second semifinal, which begins at 3:05 p.m. CT on CBS Sports Network. Tournament details and coverage links will be available on ValpoAthletics.com.