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Shorthanded Beacons knock off Evansville
MBB: Down two starters, Valparaiso picks up biggest win in Evansville since 1943
EVANSVILLE - Someone needed to be the aggressor for a suddenly shorthanded Valparaiso men’s basketball team on Saturday afternoon. Kobe King wasted no time putting his best foot forward.
King scored nine of Valparaiso’s first 11 points against Evansville and finished with a game-high 21 points as the Beacons overcame the loss of two starters in a 72-56 win over the Purple Aces at the Ford Center.
Thomas Kithier (back) was scratched from the lineup just 10 minutes before tip and Preston Ruedinger left the game with an ankle injury early in the second half.
“Everybody has to step up,” King said. “Obviously TK is a very important player, but we’ve got a lot of good players coming off the bench. Everybody just has to step up and give a little more. I think we did a good job of that today.”
King scored on Valparaiso’s first possession and he wasn’t shy about taking over on offense. Coming off a game against Loyola where he rarely looked for his shot, King had 12 points by halftime and finished with his second-highest point total of the season.
“I found some easy ones right away,” King said. “Coming off the last game, I wanted to have an aggressive mindset right away. I found my spot. Throughout the whole Loyola game we were right there and we were winning, so I didn’t want to force anything. I was locked in contributing on both sides of the ball.”
Ben Krikke delivered a solid stat line of 12 points, six rebounds and five assists. The junior only took nine shots on Saturday, but he spent much of the game shouting out instructions to his teammates and taking on a leadership role with a variety of different lineups on the floor.
“It’s just that ‘next man up mentality,’” Krikke said. “We’ve practiced with all types of different lineups. It wasn’t too shocking (for Kithier to be out), we knew he was dealing with that. (Eron Gordon) stepped up and we got off to a good start.”
Gordon had nine points, four rebounds and two steals. When Ruedinger went down with an ankle injury and with Darius DeAveiro in foul trouble, Gordon slid over to play the point.
“We just have to play the hand we’ve been dealt,” Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich said. “In some ways I think there’s been a lot thrown at us this year, but you’ll have years like that. This group gives me so much life because they don’t make excuses. They show up to work every day and that’s encouraging. We’ll the ‘next man up mentality.’ If Preston can’t go, Eron’s going to get some minutes at the point and we’ll go from there.”
Ruedinger was injured with 18:41 left in the second half when he got tangled up under Evansville’s basket and hit the ground hard. The freshman walk-on immediately grabbed at his left leg and grimaced in pain. He tried to get up with the assistance of two teammates, but went back to the ground as soon as his body weight shifted to his left ankle. King started waving for help from the bench and Lottich made the long walk across the court to his fallen point guard.
“It sucks,” Lottich said. “Especially when you know the type of work that he’s put in. The one thing about Preston, he’s really tough. If he can go, he’s gonna go. It didn’t look good. Hopefully we can get him back pretty soon.”
The Beacons (12-15, 5-10) led by as many as 19 points on Saturday, but saw Evansville cut the deficit down to nine points on several occasions. Every time the Purple Aces inched forward, Valparaiso slammed the door shot with a big shot or a big stop. It was a marked improvement from previous games where the Beacons have blown big leads.
“We’ve watched a bunch of us doing that in film,” Krikke said. “We’ve worked on it a ton; simulating end of game situations. We’ve worked on how to maintain and push up a lead. We stayed disciplined today and we didn’t try to force anything.”
Kevion Taylor finished with 16 points and knocked down a big 3-pointer with 10:51 remaining in the second half after Evansville had cut the deficit in half. The Purple Aces again got within nine points, but King added two quick layups and Evansville never got the deficit back to single digits again.
“If this happened a month ago to us, I’m not sure what would’ve happened,” Lottich said of Evansville cutting into Valpo’s 16-point halftime lead. “The guys have done a better job of keeping their head.”
Southern Illinois knocked off Indiana State on Saturday afternoon, guaranteeing that Valparaiso will be playing on Thursday night at Arch Madness. Four of Valparaiso’s five Valley victories have come against Evansville, Illinois State and Indiana State, the other three teams that will be playing on Thursday.
Kithier worked up until the opening tip to get his back loose to no avail. Lottich said after the game that the bus ride from Valparaiso to Evansville was longer than expected and it gave Kithier’s back an opportunity to lock up.
There was a fair amount of scrambling that needed to happen once it was determined Kithier wasn’t able to go. The determination came with about 11 minutes left before tip. Valparaiso had already submitted its starters for the game and Kithier’s name was in the book. Any changes have to be notated by the 10-minute mark, or else Valparaiso would’ve been hit with a technical foul. Luke Gore came running out of the locker room to make the change at the scorers’ table with seconds to spare.
Lottich challenged Sheldon Edwards to dominate on the glass on Saturday and the sophomore responded with 11 rebounds to go with 11 points. Valparaiso outrebounded the Purple Aces 34-19.
The two teams will battle again on Monday night at the Athletics-Recreation Center in a game that was originally scheduled for Feb. 1 and then Feb. 2. As it stands now, Valparaiso and Evansville would also meet in the opening round of Arch Madness.
The 16-point win was Valparaiso’s largest over Evansville in 35 years and it was the biggest win on the road against the Purple Aces since 1943.
Emil Freese-Vilien played in his first game after missing much of the year due to Lyme disease. Read more about his journey back here.
There’s nothing quite like traveling in the Valley. Look, Evansville and Terre Haute aren’t the flashiest cities in the world, but there’s something for everybody everywhere. We enjoyed some snacks at Back Stage Bar & Grill with some good Evansville company including Brandon McClish and program great Scott Shreffler. We also took a short walk from the arena to watch a beautiful sunset over the Ohio River before departing for Terre Haute. Highly recommend.
(Photo provided by Valpo Athletics)