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Loyola breaks Valpo's heart for a final time
MBB: Beacons fail to capitalize on seven stops in final eight possessions
VALPARAISO - Sheldon Edwards wasn’t interested in playing another five minutes against Loyola. He wanted the win.
The Valparaiso junior missed a potential game-winning 3-point attempt in the final seconds on Wednesday night as the Beacons once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against the Ramblers in a 71-69 loss at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
Edwards grabbed a rebound off a Loyola miss with 10.5 seconds remaining and he raced the ball up the floor as Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich watched on from the sideline, electing not to take a timeout. Edwards, who equaled his career high with 23 points on Wednesday, moved to the left and had Loyola’s lengthy Aher Uguak directly in front of him. Edwards pulled up for a deep look with 4.2 seconds left on the clock and the shot clanged off the front end of the rim, falling into the hands of Loyola’s Tate Hall and bringing an end to another soul-crushing loss for the Beacons.
“Just playing off a rhythm I guess,” Edwards said. “I didn’t want to go to overtime. I just wanted to win it. I could’ve made a better decision for us.”
Valparaiso needed every bit of Edwards in the first 37 minutes of the game as the Florida native hit shots from all over the court, including a double-teamed look from Homer Drew’s signature. (Hint, the signature is nowhere close to the 3-point line) With every basket, Edwards implored the 2,208 fans on hand to inject life into the ARC.
It was the final three minutes that killed Valpo.
“I take ownership of that,” Edwards said. “I had two turnovers and a missed free throw in the last three minutes. It’s not acceptable.”
Valparaiso left points all over the floor on Wednesday night. Preston Ruedinger missed the front end of a 1-and-1 in the first half. Thomas Kither missed a free throw that could’ve tied the game with 5:34 remaining and another that could’ve given Valpo the lead with 2:34 left. The most egregious miss came with 1:38 remaining when Edwards missed the front end.
The missed free throws were only part of the problem. Valparaiso’s defense did nearly everything it could do to deliver a victory on Wednesday. Lucas Williamson scored off a layup with 5:19 remaining to give the Ramblers a 69-66 lead. Ben Krikke came down the floor and scored inside off a pass from Kobe King to cut the deficit to one point. Then the game got crazy in the final five minutes.
Possession 1 (4:33 remaining): Uguak traveled under Loyola’s basket. Valparaiso’s ensuing possession ended with a shot clock violation as Kevion Taylor got stuck in the corner.
Possession 2 (4:01): Williamson and Knight missed a pair of shots and the Beacons came away with the ball. Edwards dribbled down the right side of the court and lost his footing. He was called for a travel before he got the signal for a timeout.
Possession 3 (3:12): Following the media timeout, Lottich took Krikke out of the game in favor of Kithier. Williamson drove the lane and tried a dump off pass in the paint that Kithier snatched up for a steal. Kithier backed in on Chris Knight and the Michigan State transfer tied the game at 69-69 with his first free throw. He missed the second.
Possession 4 (2:34): Williamson turned the ball over again as Edwards got his hand in the passing lane and poked the ball free. He got the ball to Kithier near the free throw line and Valpo’s big man attempted a pass to Preston Ruedinger in the corner that was easily picked off by Hall.
Possession 5 (2:08): Hall passed the ball to Loyola point guard Braden Norris and raced up the floor. Norris passed back to Hall who took one step and fumbled the ball into the hands of Kobe King. Valpo overloaded the left side of the court with King, Edwards and Ruedinger while Taylor and Kithier setup on the right hand side. Edwards split a pair of defenders in racing to the hoop and it looked like he was going to have a clear basket before he was fouled by Uguak. The 77 percent free throw shooter missed the front end.
Possession 6 (1:32): Following a Loyola timeout, Williamson turned the ball over yet again, this time throwing it directly into the hands of Edwards. It was Williamson’s third turnover in the last four possessions. Edwards race up the floor with a full head of steam and two defenders on him. As King cut from the corner toward the basket, Edwards dribbled to the left side and lost the ball. Edwards turned up court and started pounding his fist into the top of his head.
Possession 7 (1:14): The magic finally ran out for the Beacons. Knight got the ball down low and worked his way around the paint against Kithier. With Uguak keeping Taylor busy, Kithier was forced to defend Knight by himself. Knight finished inside, scoring Loyola’s first field goal in more than four minutes. Kithier got the ball on the other side of the court against Uguak and the pair banged into each other as he put a shot up. No foul was called and Williamson snagged the rebound.
Possession 8 (0:40): Lottich elected not to foul with a 10.5 second difference between the shot clock and game clock. Loyola coach Drew Valentine called a timeout and the Ramblers eventually got the ball to Knight who went at Kithier the exact same way as the previous possession, only this time Knight was forced to spin away from the basket and took a fading jumper that rimmed out. Edwards grabbed the rebound and sprinted down the floor. Lottich, as he has done much of the year, elected not to call a timeout. Edwards got a little bit of distance from Uguak and pulled up for the potential game winner.
With Loyola leading 69-68, the Ramblers had eight possessions in the final 4:33 of the game and scored two points. It was good enough to win.
“That’s a pretty heartbroken locker room,” Lottich said. “That last three minutes has been a microcosm of our season. The first 37 minutes is what we need to be. We really just have to find a way. Whether it’s not turning the ball over, whether it’s making free throws. Finding one more way to get a stop. We have to be better. It’s a heartbroken locker room because they laid everything out on the line. It’s been kind of a repetitive thing, but we have got to look at this, learn from this and get better from it.”
There were two omissions in the final stretch of the game that immediately became fodder for frustrated fans on social media. The first was Krikke being left on the sideline for the final 3:12 of the game. Kithier and Krikke played the first segment of the second half together and then the pair were interchanged for one another for the remainder of the game. It’s been rare that the two big men have played extended minutes with one another down the stretch of games and when push came to shove on Wednesday night, Lottich stuck with his instincts.
“It’s hard because obviously I want Ben in there,” Lottich said. “I thought playing two bigs in that moment would’ve been pretty tough defensively. I thought Tom was fantastic. The plan was trying to get (Krikke) back in, but we just kept getting stops. Again, it was strictly more of a matchup thing for him not to be in the game. It’s a little bit heartbreaking because Ben is so much to us and you want him in there at the end of the game. I just thought the matchups helped us a little bit not to have two bigs in.”
The second was not taking a timeout when Edwards corralled the rebound with 10.5 seconds remaining. A timeout would’ve allowed the ability to get Krikke back in the game and given Valpo a chance to design a winning play. It also would’ve given Loyola a chance to set its defense and in the moment, Lottich wanted the advantage of going downhill against a scrambling Loyola defense.
“We got a last stop,” Lottich said. “I thought Tom played great D. That last segment, obviously we got the ball, I didn’t want to call timeout there. I didn’t want to give their defense a chance to set. I thought we got a pretty good look, we’ve just got to bury it.”
Wednesday’s game marked the final time that Valparaiso and Loyola will meet as members of the Missouri Valley Conference. The Ramblers are moving to the Atlantic-10 at the conclusion of the 2021-22 season. Loyola leads the all-time series 45-16 and the Ramblers have swept the Beacons in all 10 regular-season games since Valpo joined the Valley in 2017. Valparaiso went 7-5 in six years when the two were members of the Horizon League. The pair never met in the Horizon League tournament and the two teams have split a pair of games at Arch Madness, including Valparaiso’s biggest win in the Valley, a 74-73 overtime win in 2020.
The 71-69 loss to Loyola marked the sixth time in last seven meetings between the two schools that the game has finished within one possession or gone to overtime. The Ramblers have won five of those games.
The loss virtually assures Valparaiso of playing on Thursday night at Arch Madness. The Beacons would need to win its four remaining games and also need Southern Illinois to lose its three remaining games. Valpo will play either Indiana State, Illinois State or Evansville in the opener. (I’m sure there are some complicated tiebreakers that could involve either Indiana State or Illinois State winning out as well, but I don’t have the brain capacity for all that right now)
Emil Freese-Vilien was back in uniform on Wednesday for the first time since Nov. 13. I documented his long journey back and his battle with Lyme disease in a feature that was released to subscribers on Wednesday afternoon. This is a reminder that while game coverage is free at The Victory Bell, compelling features like Emil’s story are available for the low price of $5/month or $49.99/year.