Mallory Ladd (Evansville, Ind./Memorial H.S.) hit a three-pointer at the end of regulation to force overtime, but Valparaiso could never take the lead in the extra session on Saturday afternoon as SIU Edwardsville defeated the Crusaders 67-64 at Vadalabene Center in Edwardsville, Ill. in the season opener for each school.
“I told our kids after the game that three words define our play,” head coach Keith Freeman said after the game. “The first was compete and I thought we really competed and showed toughness. The second is hurt. When you compete like we did and come up short it hurts. We gave it a shot but just came up short. Resolve was the third word. We hope this defines our team. This is what our team is about and how we learn from this. I felt in a lot of areas we did things well. We shot lots of free throws, had a better field goal percentage than them, and out rebounded them.”
Valpo trailed by eight points with just over three minutes remaining in the game before mounting a spirited comeback. Shaquira Scott (Wilmette, Ill./Loyola Academy) made a pair of free throws and Ashley Varner (South Bend, Ind./Washington H.S.) scored inside to cut the deficit in half. Scott then split one of two free throws to pull Valpo within three at the 1:06 mark.
After a Laura Richards (Connersville, Ind./Connersville H.S.) steal, she was fouled and made both free throws, making it a 56-55 game with 41 seconds remaining.
The Crusaders forced a miss, but were then called for an offensive foul with 12 seconds to play. Valpo had to foul defensively and Raven Berry made both free throws, putting the Cougars up three. After moving the ball into the forecourt, the Brown and Gold called time with just over two seconds remaining, setting up the final play. Betsy Adams (Monticello, Ind./Twin Lakes H.S.) found Ladd open and the freshman connected from long distance, forcing the extra session.
“The kids ran a great play,” Freeman stated. “They set good screens, Betsy made a good pass, and Mallory made the shot. Everyone did what they needed to do. Ashley (Varner) set it up for us making the play to get up court allowing us to be in that position.”
Berry scored on back-to-back possessions to start the overtime before the Crusaders fought back again. Lange made a pair of free throws at the 3:19 mark to close within two and Valpo tied the game on a Scott jumper at the 2:46 mark.
Melia Duncan drained a triple to put SIU Edwardsville back on top with 2:18 to play and Scott answered with another jumper, cutting the deficit to one. Another Duncan bucket at the 1:51 mark proved to be the game’s final points.
Valpo had a chance late, but missed a pair of shot and turned the ball over in the final 10 seconds on its final possession of the game.
The Crusaders never led in the contest at SIUE, trailing by six at intermission as the Cougars hit a pair of triples in the final minute of the stanza. The hosts lead grew to as many as 10, and was still eight heading into the final three minutes when Valpo made its charge.
Scott led Valpo with 18 points, making 7-of-14 from the floor in her collegiate debut. She also pulled down six rebounds. Ladd added 14 points off of the bench while Lange had a career-high 13 points and nine boards for the Crusaders. Varner, who missed all of last season with an injury, returned to the floor with seven points and eight rebounds.
“Those kids really played hard and competed,” Freeman added. “Shaq did a really good job getting the ball in the lane. Gina really worked hard and gave us significant minutes. Ashley Varner gave us good effort.”
Duncan led SIU Edwardsville (1-0) with 16 points while Jazmin Hill added 14 points. Michaela Herrod chipped in 12 points and nine boards while Tierny Austin also scored 12 points for the Cougars.
Valpo shot 45.7% from the floor for the game, but was hindered by 25 turnovers, which led to 28 SIUE points. The Crusaders were only 2-of-10 from three-point range. SIUE committed just 12 miscues and made 10-of-26 from long range. The Crusaders outrebounded the Cougars 43-26 on the afternoon.
“We did a lot of good things to be in a game turning the ball over as much as we did,” Freeman concluded. “The glaring weakness was the turnovers and the difference in the game was the points off of them. That’s the major thing we need to work on, taking care of the basketball.”
Valparaiso (0-1) will have eight days off before returning to the Athletics-Recreation Center on Sunday, Nov. 20 for the Crusaders’ home opener. Tip-off against Rice is set for 12:05 p.m.
Game Notes: The all-time series is tied at one between the two schools … Valpo won the initial meeting 64-55 at the ARC back in 2009 … the Crusaders have now dropped two straight season openers … Scott and Ladd both made their collegiate debuts for the Brown and Gold … Lange played 41 minutes while Richards played 40 in the opener … Scott played 38 minutes off of the bench in her debut … Valpo shot 80% (20-of-25) from the free throw line.