The story of Valparaiso University men’s basketball walk-on Preston Ruedinger’s (Oshkosh, Wis. / Lourdes Academy) compelling freshman season had its most commendable chapter yet on the conference’s biggest stage.
Ruedinger achieved a career high in scoring in the first five minutes of the game and reached double figures by the first half’s midway mark, providing an early spark that helped the Beacons establish the tone in an 81-59 victory over Evansville in the opening round of Arch Madness, the annual State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in St. Louis. His early burst started an opening half where the Valpo offense clicked on all cylinders on a night where the Beacons utilized a team effort to extend their St. Louis stay and earn a date with second-seeded Missouri State on Friday evening.
How It Happened
- The Beacons got off to a red-hot start shooting the basketball, knocking down five of their seven field-goal attempts prior to the first media timeout. Ruedinger drilled a career-high three 3s in the game’s first four minutes, helping Valpo to an early 16-7 lead.
- Following the first media timeout, Valpo continued to pour it on. What had been a three-point lead at the 16:24 mark turned into a 21-7 cushion thanks to an 11-0 run. That spurt was capped by another 3-point play by Ruedinger, this one coming the old-fashioned way as he was fouled shooting a three and went 3-for-3 at the stripe.
- The 3s continued to fall at the half’s midway mark as Sheldon Edwards (West Palm Beach, Fla. / Palm Beach Lakes [TLAP Sports Academy]) got in on the act to make it 26-13. The next two Valpo baskets came on dunks by Ben Krikke (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada / Jasper Place), both set up by Edwards assists with one coming in transition.
- The 3s kept coming as Edwards hit his second at the 6:51 mark, then Kobe King (La Crosse, Wis. / La Crosse Central [Wisconsin]) knocked one down to expand the lead back to 12 with 5:43 left of first-half time.
- Valpo shot a sizzling 60 percent (15-of-25) in the opening half and maintained a 43-32 advantage at halftime.
- The Purple Aces made a push early in the second half, scoring the first seven points of the stanza to trim an 11-point gap to four. Krikke came up with a steal on one end and a basket on the other to account for the first Beacon points of the half at the 17:04 mark, then Thomas Kithier (Macomb, Mich. / Clarkston [Michigan State]) scored the next four points to up the advantage back to double figures.
- The second of two Kithier blocks came with 14:47 on the timer as he rejected an Evansville 3-point attempt for the second time, this one leading to an emphatic fastbreak dunk by King.
- Evansville got the lead down to seven, but Valpo scored the next five including a trey by Edwards at the nine-minute mark that pushed the lead back to double figures at 62-50. The Aces were again within 10 with 4:40 to go, but the Beacons came up with huge triples from King and Edwards, the second of which made it 73-57 with 3:24 to go.
Inside the Game
- Ruedinger, who scored all 12 of his points in the first half, had just one game all season with multiple made triples prior to Thursday. He knocked down three in the opening four minutes and already had a career high in scoring by that early juncture. His previous career high was eight, which came on Jan. 11 at Loyola and Feb. 16 vs. Loyola.
- Valpo’s first-half shooting percentage of 60 marked the team’s highest first-half shooting percentage since 63.3 on Dec. 22 vs. William & Mary.
- The team knocked down seven first-half 3s on Thursday, tied for the second-most by the Beacons in a first half this season and the most since eight on Dec. 22 vs. William & Mary. The seven 3s was Valpo’s most in any half against a conference opponent this season.
- The 3-point shooting clip of 63.6 in the first half was the team’s highest in any half this season. In fact, it marked the team’s highest 3-point shooting percentage in a single half (minimum five attempts) since the second half vs. Bradley on Feb. 22, 2020 (11-of-15, 73.3 percent).
- The game marked Kithier’s return after he missed the final four games of the regular season with a back injury. In total, Valpo’s starting center was unavailable for 10 of the 18 regular-season MVC games. While given a lift by the return of Kithier, Valpo remained shorthanded as Darius DeAveiro (thumb) was not in uniform.
- King scored in double figures for the 19th time in his 22 games this season. He shared the team lead with 18 points, his 10th time with 15 points or more this year. This marked his fifth straight double-digit performance and featured three made 3s, equaling the number of made 3s he had in the final 10 games of the regular season combined. The three made 3s marked King’s season high and tied his career high established on Nov. 22, 2018 vs. Oklahoma while playing for Wisconsin.
- Edwards joined King atop the Valpo scoring column with 18 points of his own. He scored 10 points or more for the 19th time this season and the seventh time in his last nine games. In addition, Edwards pulled down seven rebounds and handed out four assists while swishing four 3s. He has four games with seven or more rebounds this season, and three of them are against Evansville.
- Edwards now has seven assists over the last two games. Prior to that, he had seven assists in his previous 10 games combined. His four assists on Thursday represented his highest total against a Division-I opponent this season.
- Krikke made his way into double figures in the scoring column for the 12th consecutive game. He has been in double figures 22 of his 28 games this season. His 10 points came on a perfect 4-of-4 shooting. This was his first perfect shooting performance since his freshman year, when he went 3-for-3 against Indiana State on Jan. 18, 2020.
- By virtue of his two dunks on Thursday, Krikke lifted his team-high season total to 11.
- Five Beacons finished in double figures, the first time that has occurred since the first game of the calendar year, Jan. 2 vs. Illinois State. A sixth Valpo player nearly hit double figures as Kevion Taylor (Milwaukee, Wis. / Whitnall [Winona State]) scored nine.
- This marked Matt Lottich’s 97th win as Valpo head coach, moving him to within three of becoming the fourth head coach in program history to get to 100 wins.
- Valpo won its first game played at Arch Madness for the third time since joining the league. This marks the third time in the last four years Valpo has won its first MVC Tournament contest.
- Valpo completed a three-game season sweep over Evansville, with all of those victories coming in the last 13 days. This marks the second time in three years Valpo has swept three matchups with Evansville. Prior to the first UE sweep in 2020, Valpo hadn’t swept a team in three matchups since 2015 (Cleveland State). Furthermore, Valpo improved to 5-0 against instate foes this season.
- The 22-point margin of victory tied for Valpo’s largest in an Arch Madness game since joining the league. The Beacons previously beat Indiana State 77-55 in the opening round of the 2019 event. This was Valpo’s largest margin of victory in a head-to-head matchup with Evansville since Jan. 10, 1987, an 80-58 win.
- The Beacons shot 15-of-17 at the free-throw line, shooting 80 percent or better for the third straight contest. Valpo is 32-of-36 (88.8 percent) at the foul line over the last three games.
- The 81 points was Valpo’s highest total in a regulation game against a Valley opponent this season. The last time Valpo surpassed the 80-point threshold in regulation was an 88-point output on Dec. 22 vs. William & Mary.
- The team finished the contest with a shooting percentage of 58.3 at 28-of-48. That marked the fourth time in the last six games that the Beacons have shot 50 percent or better.
- Valpo went 10-of-21 from 3-point territory, the sixth time this season that Valpo hit 10 or more 3s and first since Jan. 19 vs. UNI. The 3-point shooting percentage of 47.6 percent was the team’s best against a league foe this year and best overall since 54.5 percent on Dec. 22 vs. William & Mary.
Valpo (14-17) will meet Missouri State on Friday at 6 p.m. in the quarterfinal round of the State Farm MVC Tournament. The game will air on the MVC TV Network, including NBC Sports Chicago Plus. Links to live video, audio and stats will be available on ValpoAthletics.com.