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Gordon plays final game at the ARC
MBB: Valparaiso clinches No. 7 seed and will play Evansville in Arch Madness opener
VALPARAISO - Sometimes the result matters. Sometimes the moment matters.
The moment was what mattered on Wednesday night.
The Valparaiso men’s basketball team lost 71-65 in its home finale to Drake at the Athletics-Recreation Center on Wednesday. The result ultimately didn’t mean much as Illinois State fell to Southern Illinois later on in the evening, clinching the No. 7 seed for the Beacons in next week’s Missouri Valley Conference tournament in St. Louis.
Valparaiso will play No. 10 Evansville next Thursday in a rematch of the 2020 first round. The Beacons swept Evansville this season and knocked off the Purple Aces 58-55 in St. Louis two years ago.
When the final chapter is written and the book is closed on Valparaiso’s 2021-22 season, little will be made of Wednesday’s actual game. The Bulldogs shot 53.4 percent on the night and 61.5 percent in the second half. Despite the excellent shooting numbers, Drake’s Region-laden roster never quite landed the knockout blow until late in the game when Roman Penn and D.J. Wilkins took over the contest.
No, the story of Wednesday’s game came down to the fact it was the final time that Eron Gordon would play a competitive basketball game at the ARC. Kevion Taylor, who had his own moment in the sun on Wednesday, and Trevor Anderson were honored by Valparaiso both before and after the game as part of the Senior Night celebrations, but make no mistake, Wednesday night was about Eron Gordon.
“It’s a weird feeling,” Gordon said. “I talked to a couple people about their Senior Night, just past players from Valpo and what its kind of meant. It’s just a weird feeling. I’ve been happy with all the memories; the memories of Markus Golder hitting that shot against Illinois State, even just the memories of playing in Canada and the Bahamas. When this is coming to an end, it’s not really a sad feeling, but just a weird feeling knowing that I’m not going to play an official college game in here again.
Gordon is in his fourth year at Valparaiso, and his sixth in college after he spent his first two seasons at Seton Hall. When Gordon decided he wanted to transfer to be closer to his hometown of Indianapolis, Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich came calling and the two hit it off immediately.
Gordon joined the program along with fellow transfer Nick Robinson and a trio of freshmen in Javon Freeman-Liberty, Daniel Sackey and Langston Stalling. Stalling left after the first year and Freeman-Liberty left the next year. Robinson left midway through last season and Sackey transferred to New Orleans following the 2020-21 season. Gordon is the only one who made it through all four years.
“Eron has meant the world to me,” Lottich said. “He’s stuck with it here. Good times. Bad times. He’s been an every day guy. Eron is the same no matter what. He’s going to show up and give you good work ethic. He’s to do whatever you ask him to do and as a coach, that’s really all I can ask for.”
The Indianapolis native hasn’t missed a game during his Valparaiso career and he hit one of the biggest shots in recent memory when he scored on a layup to knock off Loyola in the 2020 Arch Madness quarterfinals. He’s one of just three players to appear in all 29 games this season and he’s played all over the floor, providing a stopgap whenever a player has gone down with an injury. Ben Krikke is out with an ankle, here comes Gordon. Thomas Kither’s back acts up again, put in EG. Trevor Anderson and Preston Ruedinger are out at the point, sure, let Gordon have a crack at it.
“He’s had a crazy amount of roles,” Lottich said. “His ability to step in and be a point guard the last couple games was huge for us. It’s an everyday mentality and it’s just meant the world for four years.”
While Gordon’s career at the ARC is over, his collegiate basketball career still has at least two games remaining. The Beacons travel to Peoria on Saturday for an evening tilt with Bradley. It’s a game that means nothing in the standings as the Braves are locked in to the No. 5 seed. It doesn’t mean Valpo won’t be hunting for some momentum. Despite the loss on Wednesday, Gordon feels that the Beacons are continuing to trend in the right direction and are ready for the postseason.
“I feel very confident going into next week,” Gordon said. “I think that we’re trending in the right way. We played Loyola the way that we wanted to. Obviously you’re never happy with a loss, but looking at film, I think we looked good. Out first game against Evansville I thought we looked good and our second game we could’ve done a little bit better, but still did some good things. I felt we looked pretty solid against Drake. Overall, we just have to continue to get better over the next week because we were in this situation before and we made a run, so I think it’s just taking each and every day for what it is. It’s just a day to get better.”
Thomas Kithier (back) and Preston Ruedinger (ankle) were both held out of action on Wednesday, but both are trending in the right direction to play either this weekend against Bradley or next week at Arch Madness.
There are 32 scenarios in play for Saturday’s Valley games. The best matchup features Loyola traveling to Northern Iowa for a winner-take-all shot at the regular-season championship. The Panthers are likely the No. 2 seed if they fall to Loyola, but would drop to the No. 3 seed if Evansville beat Missouri State AND Drake beat Southern Illinois. Loyola could fall all the way to the No. 4 seed if it lost to UNI. The Ramblers have the widest range of any team remaining. Drake and Missouri State both could finish anywhere from the No. 2 to the No. 4 seed.
Kevion Taylor became the 27th active player across all levels of NCAA basketball to eclipse 2,000 career points on Wednesday. The Winona State transfer knocked down a 3-pointer late in the second half and was greeted with a standing ovation at the ARC.
Valparaiso had a different starting lineup for the 11th time in Valley play this year and the 14th time overall. I’m not going to do the math on this one, but I have to imagine 11 different starting lineups in 17 games has got to be some sort of record.
While this story felt more like a feature on Eron Gordon, it technically was born out of game coverage, so I’m keeping it free. I’ve got some good men’s basketball content coming up on Friday and then next week as I begin to preview Arch Madness. All of that will be available to paid subscribers. I’ll be in St. Louis for the entire tournament this year and hope to see many of you around town.
(Photo provided by Valpo Athletics)