Beacons complete Indiana sweep
MBB: Valparaiso knocks off Evansville for second time in three days; will face either Purple Aces or Indiana State at Arch Madness
VALPARAISO - College basketball coaches around the country preach that they want their teams playing their best basketball when March rolls around.
It would be a mistake to say that Valparaiso played its best basketball of the year in a rematch with Evansville on Monday night, but the Beacons may just have found something to build on in a 74-69 win over the Purple Aces.
Hosting Evansville just over 48 hours after winning a road game at the Ford Center on Saturday, the Valparaiso men’s basketball team jumped out to an early 13-point lead, only to fall behind by double digits in the second half. Instead of folding down the stretch as the Beacons have done on a handful of occasions this season, the team rolled up their collective sleeves and went to work.
“We learned to fight through adversity,” Valparaiso senior Kevion Taylor said. “We learned to play together in those moments and keep our heads held high. The coaches have done a good job of keeping us composed and making sure we’re still engaged in the game. I think we just learned from earlier games.”
Valparaiso led 31-18 with 4:44 left in the first half before Evansville went on a 12-5 run to end the half. Trailing by six at the break, the Purple Aces scored the first 16 points of the second half to take a 46-36 lead. When the Beacons have blown leads earlier this year against teams like Loyola and Illinois State, they have gone on to lose those games. Monday was a different story.
“The thing that I’m proud of with this group is (earlier this year), this group would’ve gotten frustrated,” Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich said. “They would’ve hung their head and there would’ve been a lot of hero shots trying to get us back into it. The conversation in timeouts is that we’ve got to be better, we’ve got to continue to execute and we’ve got to guard. We’ve got to get back in the game that way. I thought we did that. We started getting baskets and obviously we started to find our rhythm.”
Perhaps the most encouraging thing for Valparaiso is that it wasn’t just one player who helped lead the charge back on Monday. The Beacons had a balanced effort in the second half as Kevion Taylor, Ben Krikke, Sheldon Edwards, Kobe King and Eron Gordon all scored at least five points in the second half.
King scored Valparaiso’s first points of the second half on a jumper with 14:26 remaining in the game. Krikke added a fast break layup on the next possession and then Gordon scored in the paint to cut the deficit to four points. Taylor got Valpo within a point after a second chance 3-pointer following a Krikke offensive rebound. Evansville stopped the 9-0 run with a 3-pointer from Noah Frederking, but Valparaiso came right back with five quick points, including a fast break jump shot from King that gave the Beacons the lead midway through the half.
The teams traded the lead for the next five minutes before Edwards started to go to work with four points, two rebounds and an assist during a key stretch of the game. Valparaiso never trailed again and the Beacons closed the game out with nine makes from the free throw line in the final 33 seconds of action.
Lottich said following Saturday’s win against Evansville that he challenged Edwards and King to have more of an impact on the glass earlier in the week.
Edwards finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds, his second straight double double after getting the first of his career on Saturday. King added a double double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
“These two guys, as athletic as they are, we do teach blocking out with our bigs, but when you have some athletes like we have, ‘go get it,’” Lottich said. “Go get the ball, at its peak. We can’t run to the rim and do that, but if you stand in a spot, as quick as these guys get off the ground, as strong as they are, you’re going to get a lot of rebounds.”
Taylor led the Beacons (13-15, 6-10) with 23 points while Krikke added 16 points and five rebounds. Gordon shined in 23 minutes off the bench, scoring seven points and blocking four shots. Valparaiso had a 17-point advantage over the Purple Aces on Monday night when Gordon was on the floor.
“That’s a senior having a senior moment,” Lottich said.
Valparaiso will return to the ARC for the home finale on Wednesday night against Drake.
Valparaiso is locked into playing on Thursday night at Arch Madness and the Beacons will either play Evansville for the third time in 12 days, or will play Indiana State. Valpo swept both of their in-state rivals this season. Evansville is guaranteed to be the No. 10 seed while there could still be some jockeying between Valparaiso and Illinois State for the 7 and 8 seed. The Beacons essentially have a magic number of one to clinch the No. 7 seed. If Valparaiso wins either of its two remaining games or Illinois State loses either of its two remaining games, Valpo will play Evansville. In the 1,024 scenarios that remain in play with 10 games remaining in the Missouri Valley Conference, 960 of those scenarios have the Beacons playing in the 7-10 game.
If Valparaiso and Evansville do play at Arch Madness, expect the game to have a completely different look. The Purple Aces have been without second-leading scorer and leading rebounder Jawaun Newton (13.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg) for both meetings with the Beacons. Valpo has been without Thomas Kithier (back) for both games and Preston Ruedinger for essentially three halves. There’s a strong chance that all three are ready to go in St. Louis.
Lottich said after Monday’s game that Ruedinger would’ve been able to play if “it was the conference championship game.” It’s an impressive recovery from just two days earlier when Ruedinger struggled to put any weight on his left ankle after stepping on Taylor’s foot under the Evansville basket early in the second half during Saturday’s game.
Valparaiso has a variety of contests during games at the ARC and my favorites are usually whenever someone can win something for a year. If you tell me someone has to make a shot or solve a riddle or whatever and they get anything for a year, I’ll watch. On Monday there was a fan from the stands who had to hit a layup, a free throw and a 3-pointer within 30 seconds to win free pizza for a year. He hit the 3-pointer on his second attempt and it was an impressive stepback 3-pointer. Even more impressive was that he then grabbed the ball and threw down a dunk while wearing UGG boots. I’m pretty sure that in addition to the free pizza, he also won the NBA dunk contest.
I get asked this all the time and I really don’t have a good answer, so I’ll ask the question right back…where is the pep band? It’s absurd to me that there is a band for some games and not for others. Pep bands make the entire atmosphere of college sporting events, particularly basketball games. My understanding after talking to some students who have performed in the past is that the pep band doesn’t fall under the guidance of the athletic department, nor does it fall under the guidance of the music department. It’s an independent entity where students volunteer to play, so I’ve been told. Regardless of who is in charge of what, can we get the head to talk to the hand about this one? I can remember the Valpo pep band traveling to Detroit and New York during the 2015-16 season. Surely someone had to coordinate all that. Here’s hoping this gets figured out by next season.
When I launched The Victory Bell, I made the decision to make game coverage free and make everything else available to paid subscribers. With so many games of late, it hasn’t afforded me time to do much else. Trust that some good stuff is coming down the pipe for subscribers, including a glimpse into the Valparaiso softball program on Wednesday morning.
(Photo provided by Valpo Athletics)