The Valparaiso University men’s basketball team will hit the road for Arch Madness next week riding high, as the Crusaders closed out the regular season on Saturday afternoon in Des Moines, Iowa with a 69-64 victory over Drake. Sophomore Derrik Smits (Zionsville, Ind./Zionsville) led the way for the Crusaders with a career-best 22 points.
How It Happened
– Valpo looked to pull away with a big first-half run, out-scoring Drake 18-5 over a six-minute stretch to turn a one-point advantage into a 28-14 lead with 7:09 to play in the half. Six different Crusaders scored during the run, led by five points from sophomore Markus Golder (Portland, Ore./Clackamas [North Idaho]).
– Just as quickly as the Crusaders had extended their lead, however, Drake came roaring back. The Bulldogs scored 16 consecutive points over the next seven minutes, converting at one point on five straight possessions, to briefly claim a 30-28 lead.
– Drake converted on a free throw with 11 seconds left in the half for the two-point lead, but it would be a tie game into the locker room, as Valpo raced the ball up and got it to Smits in the post for an inside basket in the waning seconds to even the score at 30-30.
– The two teams battled for control early in the second half, with back-to-back Smits baskets giving Valpo a four-point lead before the Bulldogs responded with 3-pointers on three straight trips – the last of which gave Drake a 41-39 edge with 15:30 remaining.
– Smits gave Valpo the lead for good with baskets on each of Valpo’s next two possessions, sparking a 12-2 run over a three-minute stretch. Five different Crusaders scored during the spurt, which featured layups on five straight possessions, to give Valpo a 51-42 lead with 12:28 to play.
– Valpo would maintain a lead in the high single digits over most of the remainder of the game. With 7:16 to play and with 5:18 remaining, Drake cut the lead to six points, but both times, Smits came up with a big bucket to push the lead back to eight.
– A third-chance layup from Golder put Valpo ahead 61-51 with 3:03 to go, and while Drake’s Reed Timmer connected on a 3-pointer on the Bulldogs’ next possession, the Crusaders again crashed the glass on their next trip. An offensive rebound and kick-out resulted in Valpo running nearly 50 seconds off the clock on a possession which resulted in a driving layup from sophomore Bakari Evelyn (Detroit, Mich./Hillcrest [Ariz.] Academy/Southfi eld Christian [Nebraska]) to make it a nine-point edge with 2:01 to play.
– Following a Drake miss, the Crusaders had three shots at the rim to push the lead to 11 points, but could not convert, and the Bulldogs started a furious rally two possessions later. A pair of free throws for Drake were followed by the Crusaders missing the front end of a one-and-one, and Timmer connected on a 3-pointer to cut Valpo’s lead to 63-59 with 47 seconds to go.
– The Crusaders turned the ball over on the ensuing inbounds pass and would eventually foul a 3-point shooter, as De’Antae McMurray hit two to make it a two-point game. But Valpo’s seniors stepped up at the foul line, as first Tevonn Walker (Montreal, Quebec/Vanier College) and then Max Joseph (Montreal, Quebec/Vanier College) went 2-for-2 at the line in the final 25 seconds.
– Drake’s final gasp came on a Timmer 3-pointer with seven seconds to play which cut the Crusaders’ lead to 67-64, but the Bulldogs bench then called timeout without any remaining, resulting in two free throws for a technical foul which Evelyn converted.
Inside the Game
– Saturday marked Valpo’s first MVC road victory of the year, but was the seventh time in nine conference road contests it had been tied or led in the second half.
– The Crusaders finished the MVC slate with a 6-12 record. Valpo’s six wins match the 2012-13 Southern Illinois team and the 1992-93 Creighton squad for the most by a 10th place team since The Valley has gone to 10 programs.
– Smits led the way for Valpo on his career day, finishing with 22 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the floor while also grabbing six rebounds. The sophomore far surpassed her previous career highs of 17 points and seven made field goals.
– Golder scored in double figures for the seventh consecutive game, as the Sixth Man of the Year candidate went 6-of-10 from the floor for 13 points. He also narrowly missed his second double-double of the year, grabbing nine rebounds to share team-high honors with Walker, who also scored 11 points.
– Led by the play of Smits, Valpo doubled up Drake in points in the paint, 36-18.
– The Crusaders enjoyed their greatest advantage on the glass within MVC play, out-rebounding the Bulldogs 43-30. Sophomore Jaume Sorolla (Tortosa, Spain/Sunrise Christian [Kan.] Academy) chipped in seven boards to go with the game-high nine from Golder and Walker.
– Valpo has now held the advantage on the boards in each of its last five games after an eight-game stretch in which it was outrebounded every time out.
– The Crusaders continued their strong free throw shooting, going 10-of-11 (90.9%) at the stripe – the fourth time in the last six games they have hit 89% or better from the foul line.
– Timmer led all players with 28 points for Drake (16-15, 10-8 MVC) and hit 5-of-7 from 3-point range as the Bulldogs posted the most effective game from the 3-point line against the Crusaders in MVC play, hitting 9-of-22 as a team. Valpo’s interior defense was stout, however, holding Drake to 10-of-34 (29.4%) from inside the arc.
Valpo (15-16, 6-12 MVC) will await Sunday morning’s official announcement from the MVC office of the Arch Madness bracket. The Crusaders entered Saturday’s game locked into the tenth seed and will play the tournament’s seventh seed at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday night.