Rookies, Seniors Shine to Propel Valpo Past Missouri State
The past, present and future of the Valparaiso University men’s basketball program all came together in a dominant 89-74 win over Missouri State on Tuesday night at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
After a Senior Night celebration of the duo’s past accomplishments, veterans John Kiser (Noblesville, Ind. / Noblesville) and Ryan Fazekas (Chesterton, Ind. / Marquette Catholic [Providence]) turned in strong performances in their final collegiate home game. Not to be outdone by their elders, freshmen Ben Krikke (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada / Jasper Place) and Donovan Clay (Alton, Ill. / Alton) combined for 36 points while sophomore Daniel Sackey (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada / Thornlea) chipped in 14. A team effort from up and down the roster helped Valpo withstand the absence of leading scorer Javon Freeman-Liberty (Chicago, Ill. / Whitney Young), who was sidelined by an illness.
How It Happened
- Valpo charged out to a 6-0 lead early and sustained the advantage for the first 13 minutes of the game. Missouri State got to within one at 8-7, but Valpo scored six straight to open up a seven-point edge after a Sackey fastbreak layup with 13:35 on the clock.
- The Bears made a push that tied the game at 24 with 6:57 to go in the half, but Fazekas swished a 3 despite being fouled to go up 27-24.
- Missouri State took its first lead at 28-27 with 5:18 to go in the half and expanded that edge to 31-27. Valpo scored nine straight points including a go-ahead 3 by Kiser to jump back in front. Krikke’s 3 capped the run and made it 36-31 with 2:36 on the clock. By halftime, Missouri State had slimmed the lead to two at 41-39.
- Valpo started the second half with eight consecutive points over the first two minutes, forcing a quick Missouri State timeout after perhaps the most important stretch of the game. Clay had four of the eight points while Mileek McMillan (Merrillville, Ind. / Merrillville) threw down a dunk on an assist by Sackey.
- Clay scored the next two Valpo baskets to up the cushion to 13 at 53-40 with 15:32 to go. Eron Gordon (Indianapolis, Ind. / Cathedral [Seton Hall]) got in on the act by swishing in a trey to bulge the lead to 14, but the Bears (14-16, 8-9) had a response. They ran off nine straight points to shrink the gap to five at 59-54 with 10:55 to go.
- The next seven points belonged to Valpo as two baskets by Clay were sandwiched around a Fazekas triple. That opened the advantage back up to 12, and Valpo would lead by double figures the rest of the way.
- The Brown & Gold went on one more sizable run just for good measure, holding Missouri State scoreless for 3:09 while rapping off 12 straight points that widened the lead from 10 to 22 and put the game out of reach.
- The Bears scored the final five points of the game to sneak within 15.
Inside the Game
- Valpo shot a season-best 58.6 percent (34-58) from the field, eclipsing the season best of 55.6 percent in the team’s last game, Saturday night vs. Bradley.
- Missouri State led for just 1:53 while Valpo held the lead for 35:56.
- Valpo has scored 89 points or more in back-to-back games for the first time since Nov. 29, 2013 vs. Mercer (L 117-108) and Nov. 30, 2013 vs. Cincinnati Christian (W 94-58). This is the first time Valpo has scored 89 or more in consecutive games against Division-I teams since January 2006 against Longwood (W 105-73) and Oakland (W 95-64).
- Valpo shot 50 percent from 3-point distance at 11-of-22. The team started 0-for-5 from 3 and didn’t make a trey in the first 13 minutes of the game, but then went 11-of-17 (64.7) the rest of the way.
- The win allowed Valpo to clinch at least a .500 record both overall and in Missouri Valley Conference play. The team had already secured its highest win total since joining The Valley and by virtue of its ninth league win on Tuesday, will finish with a Valley mark of .500 or better for the first time.
- Clay finished with 22 points, eclipsing his previous career high of 21 set in the Dec. 30 conference opener against Loyola. He bookended the home portion of his first MVC voyage with outputs of over 20 points. He also held the team lead with seven rebounds while going 11-of-17 from the field in Tuesday’s triumph.
- This marked Clay’s third time this season leading the team in scoring and first since posting 18 on Jan. 11 vs. Drake.
- Fazekas accrued 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting including 5-of-6 from 3-point range during his ARC farewell. The fifth-year senior started the home portion of his final campaign with a career-high 23 on Nov. 5 vs. Toledo and had his second 20-point output of the year during Tuesday’s home finale. He has canned a season-high five triples in back-to-back outings. The seven made field goals on Tuesday replicated a career high.
- Kiser’s eight assists shattered his previous personal best of five. It was the first time in his collegiate career he held the outright team lead in assists. He committed just one turnover while notching three steals and registering seven points in his final collegiate home game.
- Sackey returned to the starting lineup after coming off the bench each of the last five contests. He responded by turning in 14 points, the second-highest total of his career behind 22 earlier this season on Nov. 9 at Saint Louis.
- Krikke had 14 points to finish in double figures for the seventh time this year. The freshman got there on 5-of-6 shooting while grabbing four rebounds.
- This marked Matt Lottich’s 70th win as the head coach at Valpo.
- Valpo defeated the preseason favorite in the Missouri Valley Conference for the first time since joining the league. The team was previously 0-7 against the squad projected to win The Valley. This was Valpo’s first victory over the preseason favorite in its own conference since a 54-44 win over Green Bay on March 10, 2015 in the Horizon League Championship.
- Valpo was previously just 3-9 on its home floor against Missouri State in the all-time series. Valpo had dropped each of the first two home meetings since joining the league and was 1-5 overall against the Bears in Valley action.
Valpo (16-14, 9-8) will close out the regular season on Saturday afternoon at Indiana State. The game is slated to tip at 1 p.m. and will be carried on ESPN3.