Beacons bottom out late against Illinois State
MBB: Valparaiso blows 16-point lead in sixth overtime game of the season
NORMAL, Ill. - The basketball gods had a good laugh at Valparaiso’s expense on Wednesday night.
Regardless of what plans the Beacons had for their trip to Redbird Arena for a rematch with Illinois State, fate told us a higher power was going to make sure the game went to overtime. The two teams came into Wednesday having each played five overtime games this season, including a Jan. 2 tilt at the Athletics-Recreation Center. By the time the dust settled on Illinois State’s 78-75 comeback victory, the two schools led the country in overtime games this year.
“The way stuff is going for us now, we might as well just throw 40 minutes out the window and play five minutes,” Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich said. “We’ve had a million overtime games.”
That this game even made it to overtime was a either a comedy of errors or a Greek tragedy, depending on your particular cup of theater.
The Beacons looked like they might score an early knockout punch when Kevion Taylor connected on his fourth 3-pointer of the first half to give Valparaiso a 28-19 lead. Taylor was called for his second foul moments later and was relegated to the bench for the final six minutes of the half. Valparaiso still looked poised to carry a big lead into the locker room, but Josiah Strong and Antonio Reeves had other ideas. They knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in the final minute of the first half and Valparaiso limped into the break with a 37-33 lead.
The Redbirds (11-14, 4-8) trimmed their deficit down to a single point on the first possession of the second half. Valparaiso responded by playing perhaps its finest stretch of basketball of the 2021-22 season in ripping off a 14-2 run that was capped off by Taylor stealing the ball and going coast-to-coast with Illinois State defenders on either side of his body. If there was a basketball version of taking candy from a baby, that play was it. The 16-point lead was the highwater mark of the night for Valpo and even though Illinois State responded with five quick points, it felt like the game was over.
Valparaiso was doing everything right. The ball movement was crisp. Taylor couldn’t miss. Ben Krikke was getting whatever shot he wanted inside and even if they weren’t all going in, he was playing with a welcomed aggression. On the other side of the floor, Taylor and Kobe King were coming up with steals and Krikke was blocking everything that came his way. At the 15:47 mark of the second half, it looked as if everything was coming up Beacons.
The basketball gods weren’t amused. They wanted overtime, and overtime they would receive.
“The message obviously wasn’t to stop playing hard,” Krikke said. “We took lax shots. We weren’t as aggressive in rebounding. We let them get off second chances. We were letting Reeves go off. It’s not our wish to go out and relax on a big lead, but I think it happened tonight.”
Reeves may very well have been a basketball god on Wednesday night. The Illinois State junior scored 20 of his 34 points in the second half. Just as Taylor was unstoppable for Valparaiso, Reeves was the same for the Redbirds.
“I didn’t want their best player coming out and scoring on us,” Reeves said. “I don’t want to lose. I came out on the other end and I did something about it.”
Reeves gradually wore down Valparaiso’s defense with a steady barrage of offense. He scored from every spot on the floor and in every manner. Valparaiso led 68-63 with less than two minutes remaining and Reeves scored on a drive to the basket. His biggest shots of the night came moments later when he tied the game on a stepback 3-pointer from the corner. Taylor hit two free throws in the final minute of regulation to get to a career-high 26 points, but Reeves wouldn’t be deterred. His floater with 38 seconds tied the game once again. The Beacons knew what was coming on every possession down the stretch and Reeves still made them pay.
“Look at the shots that he was hitting,” Lottich said. “ISOs, taking 7-8-9-10 dribbles, stepback shots. You get up on him and want to run him off the line. At some point, you tip your hat to a young man. He had it going tonight. Good offense is always going to beat good defense. He’s just that type of talent.”
Valparaiso had one last opportunity to defy the basketball gods and win the game in regulation. Reeves’ floater was an aggressive shot that not only tied the game, but gave the Redbirds the chance to get the ball for the final shot as there was an eight second difference between the shot and game clocks for the Beacons. Lottich called a timeout and designed a play that ultimately ended with Taylor’s corner 3-pointer getting stuck between the rim and the backboard.
“We wanted to work it down,” Lottich said. “It was a tough one because there’s eight seconds (difference). We put the ball in Sheldon’s hands. He’s a pretty dynamic scorer. We wanted to run some action and his play was to either make a play or get it back. I kind of liked (Taylor’s) look. Maybe probably drive it a little bit, but it’s a shot that Kev had hit (tonight), it just was off.”
Strong’s 3-pointer was off and the inevitability of overtime became a reality; only nobody told the Beacons. The Redbirds scored on their opening possession of overtime, taking their first lead since the 9:22 mark of the first half. Valpo’s mistakes started to pile up. Taylor turned the ball over and Edwards shortarmed a turnaround jumper in the paint. The crushing blow came with under a minute remaining when Preston Ruedinger turned the ball over on a botched handoff with Krikke. Illinois State took advantage of a Valparaiso double team on the ensuing possession as Mark Freeman split the defense for a pass inside to Liam McChesney who pushed the lead to 76-72 with less than 20 seconds remaining.
“We ran a play to get (Reeves) open and they knew what we were doing,” McChesney said. “The ball was fumbling around and they doubled. Mark is such a good player, a good passer. He saw me down there and all I had to do was lay it in. I did the easy work.”
The Beacons scored just two points in overtime until Edwards hit a 3-pointer with two seconds remaining. A final timeout only delayed the agony as Valparaiso snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
King had 14 points and three steals for the Beacons (11-13, 4-8) while Krikke added 12 points and four blocks. The junior took nine shots in the first half and looked poised to have a big game before Illinois State started throwing Abdou Ndiaye at him. Krikke was limited to just five shots in the second half and overtime.
“I had a bad turnover,” Krikke said. “I was missing easy shots. It’s frustrating. The touch wasn’t really there. Definitely some shots I’d like to get back. I shoot 55 percent and today I shot in the 40s. That’s not a place I’m excited to be. We have to refocus. Just frustrated tonight.”
The Beacons don’t have any time to feel sorry for themselves as they will return home for a day of practice before hitting the road for Missouri State. Valparaiso is playing in consecutive road games for just the second time this season and first in conference play.
“Basketball is a game of inches and you’ve just got to win inches over and over and over again,” Lottich said. “You can’t let up doing that. That’s the next step for this team, to do it for 40. We have stretches in every game where we play really well and we have stretches in every game where we don’t play well. We’ve got to start stringing it together.”
The 16-point lead that Valparaiso blew on Wednesday night equaled the biggest blown lead during the Matt Lottich Era. Valparaiso led Evansville 28-12 in the first half on Feb. 1, 2021 before falling 58-51. Wednesday’s game marked the biggest lead that was blown in the second half under Lottich and the second time in as many years (Purdue, Dec. 4, 2020) that Valparaiso has blown a double-digit lead in the second half.
Valparaiso’s six overtime games is two off the all-time mark in NCAA Division I basketball. Western Kentucky (1977-78), Portland (1983-84) and…Valparaiso (1992-93) have the record with eight overtime games.
Valparaiso isn’t the only Valley school to adorn the overtime record books. Illinois State is tied with two other teams (Jacksonville 1981-82, Dayton 1987-88) for having played four consecutive overtime games in the 1984-85 season. Bradley also holds a NCAA record for playing the most overtime periods in a season as the Braves played in 14 extra sessions during the 1981-82 season.
Matt Lottich stated after the game that Preston Ruedinger spent much of the trip to Illinois State throwing up. Ruedinger fouled out in 24 minutes while scoring six points and dishing out three assists.
Kobe King drove the lane late in the second half and had his shot blocked by Abodou Ndiaye. King came away from the play holding his face. His right eye immediately looked in rough shape and he was sporting a noticeable cut under his eye after the game. No foul was called.
A reminder that while game coverage is free on The Victory Bell, there are plenty more stories available for $5/month or $49.99 per year. Ben Krikke had some interesting comments after the game concerning Valparaiso’s approach to this season. Krikke’s comments as well as a look to Valparaiso’s path to Arch Madness will go out to subscribers on Friday morning.