Valpo Men’s Basketball Matches Best Start in 73 Years, Captures Savannah Invitational Title
The Valparaiso University men’s basketball team improved to 7-0 on Saturday night in closing out a perfect four-game stretch through the Savannah Invitational, as led by a career-best effort from redshirt sophomore Bakari Evelyn (Detroit, Mich./Hillcrest [Ariz.] Academy/Southfield Christian [Nebraska]), the Crusaders defeated UNCW 79-70. Valpo shared the tournament title with Loyola, while Evelyn was named co-Tournament MVP.
How It Happened
– Valpo jumped out to a quick 10-4 advantage on Saturday just over three minutes into the game – including five early points from Evelyn. But the Seahawks would score 22 of the next 28 points, capped by a 12-0 run which gave UNCW a 26-16 lead with nine minutes to go in the first half.
– The Crusaders snapped their scoring skid in a big way, scoring eight points on their next three trips down the court – six of which came off of a pair of 3-pointers by Evelyn – to quickly close within two points.
– UNCW would maintain a narrow lead for much of the remainder of the first half, but the game would head into the halftime break tied at 35-35 as sophomore Micah Bradford (Bourbonnais, Ill./Bradley-Bourbonnais) connected on a 3-pointer on Valpo’s final possession of the half.
– The Crusaders took their first lead since UNCW’s big first-half run just over a minute into the second half on a jumper in the lane from Evelyn. That basket was part of a 11-2 Valpo run – which featured two buckets apiece by Evelyn and sophomore Jaume Sorolla (Tortosa, Spain/Sunrise Christian [Kan.] Academy) – which gave the Crusaders a 48-39 lead with inside of 15 minutes to play.
– The Seahawks responded, however, as they went on an 11-1 run over the next three minutes to re-take the lead at 50-49.
– Valpo limited UNCW to just four points over the next five and a half minutes, as the Crusader defense helped them regain the advantage. The Crusaders out-scored UNCW 13-4 over the stretch, a span which featured a 3-pointer by redshirt sophomore Markus Golder (Portland, Ore./Clackamas [North Idaho]) and a perfect 6-of-6 mark from the foul line for Evelyn.
– The Seahawks closed to within four points with 3:32 to play at 67-63 following a layup from Jay Estime, but that would be their last points for a span of 2:47 as the Crusaders pulled away. Evelyn hit a tough jumper off the glass to spark a 7-0 spurt as the Crusaders also went 5-of-6 from the foul line during the run. Meanwhile, UNCW missed seven straight shots from the field as Valpo secured its seventh straight victory.
Inside the Game
– Valpo’s 7-0 start matches the 1966-67 squad for the best start in the last 73 seasons. The 1966-67 team also opened with seven straight wins en route to a 21-win campaign and a berth in the NCAA national quarterfinals.
– The last Crusader team to begin the year with more than seven consecutive wins came way back in 1944-45, as the “World’s Tallest Team” won its first 11 games of the season on its way to a 21-3 record.
– Valpo has now won 16 consecutive games as part of early-season multi-team events (MTEs) dating back to the 2013-14 season.
– The Crusaders have now posted perfect records in four straight MTEs to earn tournament crowns. Last season, Valpo won the Heavyweight Division of the MGM Grand Main Event. The 2015-16 squad went a perfect 4-0 in the Beaver Showcase – including a win at Oregon State – while the 2014-15 team brought home the trophy from the Challenge in Music City with three big wins in Nashville.
– After tallying 13 points and six assists in Valpo’s win over Kent State on Friday night, Evelyn showed off his scoring chops on Saturday. The sophomore went 8-of-11 from the floor – including a 3-for-4 mark from 3-point range – and was nearly perfect from the foul line, going 11-of-12 from the charity stripe for a career-best 30 points. He also set a new career high with eight rebounds.
– Evelyn was named co-MVP of the tournament, along with Loyola’s Dontae Ingram. Both Valpo and Loyola were declared co-champions, as the two MVC programs went 4-0 as part of the event, with two wins apiece coming in Savannah, and held an identical margin of victory over the four wins.
– Evelyn was joined on the All-Tournament Team by senior Tevonn Walker (Montreal, Quebec/Vanier College), who followed up his 17-point effort from Friday with 16 points and six rebounds on Saturday.
– Walker went 10-of-12 from the foul line, combining with Evelyn to lead the way at the stripe as the Crusaders went 28-of-37 (75.7%).
– Facing another squad with a large advantage on the boards coming into the game, the Crusaders ended the night out-rebounding UNCW 46-41, led by eight rebounds apiece from Evelyn and Sorolla. Sorolla added eight points and a pair of blocked shots as well.
– Four Seahawks scored in double figures, led by 13 points each from Jordon Talley and Ty Taylor. Talley handed out five assists as well.
– Valpo earned the win on Saturday despite recording just three assists on its 23 made baskets.
– The Crusaders were tied with the Seahawks at the half, 35-35 – the first time Valpo has been tied at halftime in its last 254 games. Valpo last was all square at half time on Feb. 8, 2010 with UIC, 31-31, in an eventual 83-82 Crusader win.
Valpo (7-0) looks to win its eighth straight to open the year back at the ARC on Tuesday evening as the Crusaders host Utah State as part of the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge. The game is set for a 7 p.m. tip, and can be seen live on The Valley on ESPN3, WatchESPN and the ESPN app, as well as heard live on WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso). Links for all the live coverage will be available via ValpoAthletics.com.