Strong second half not enough as skid hits 10 games
MBB: Beacons emulating struggles from Homer Drew's early years in loss to SIU
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Long before Homer Drew started hanging banners above the court that now bears his name at the Athletics-Recreation Center, opponents hung plenty of losses on the Valparaiso men’s basketball coach.
Sure, Drew captured some immediate success in his first season with Valpo, upsetting nationally-ranked Notre Dame in the Lutheran Miracle on Dec. 17, 1988. There were a handful of highlights in that first season - scoring 104 points against Butler, winning a close game at Missouri State and winning a AMCU tournament game for the first time in program history.
Then the real losing began.
Drew’s second season started with an eight-game losing streak and a program-record 13-game losing streak later followed as Valpo finished 4-22. Drew’s third season ended with a 10-game losing streak in a 5-22 campaign. His fourth season included another 10-game losing streak and the year ended with a 44-point drubbing at the hands of Green Bay in a game where Valpo scored only 25 points. In that three-year stretch, Drew went 14-68.
Three years later, Drew hung his first banner.
Three years after that, Valparaiso was in the Sweet Sixteen.
It remains to be seen how many banners Roger Powell Jr. will hang in his time at Valparaiso, or how many losses opponents will hang on the Beacons this season.
Southern Illinois handed Valpo another loss on Wednesday night, knocking off the Beacons 77-68 in a game that featured an abysmal first half, an alarming halftime and an astounding dunk at the buzzer that was significant to some.
The game was also Valpo’s 10th loss in a row, tying two of Drew’s streaks (1990-91, 1991-92) as well as two other season (1947-48, 1977-78) for the third-longest in program history. The 13-game losing streak occurred in 1989-90 and legendary coach Loren Ellis lost 11 straight during the 1946-47 season.
“One of the messages in the locker room was ‘don’t listen to outside noise,’’ Powell said. “Obviously we’ve got a losing streak, but to be honest, losing streaks, that’s for the media. That’s for tweets. It doesn’t matter right now. What matters right now is we’re building something special. We’re building a culture of accountability. We’re building a culture of grit. We’re building a culture of work. When you build those things, it comes from the mud. It comes from these experiences where it’s really hard. That’s where you grow the most.”
There was plenty of mud in the first half as the Beacons trailed by a season-high 20 points at the break. Missouri Valley Conference leading scorer Xavier Johnson knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in the early going and Scottie Ebube scored 11 points in four minutes on the court to blow open a close game. The Salukis (12-4, 4-1) used a 17-2 run to pull ahead and take a 44-24 lead at the half.
Johnson scored at the halftime buzzer and as the players ran to the locker room, the fire alarm in the ARC started blaring. Fans made obvious jokes as the alarm sounded the bulk of halftime with some even wondering if the players themselves pulled the alarm to avoid having to come back to the court.
The joke was on those fans as Valparaiso stormed back in the second half, cutting a 23-point deficit down to single digits on two occasions, including at the buzzer when Ola Ajiboye’s putback dunk drew cheers from crowd members who were well aware of its significance in Las Vegas.
If there was any quit in the Beacons, it certainly wasn’t on display on Wednesday night. Isaiah Stafford (knee) was back in the starting lineup and scored a team-high 19 points while Darius DeAveiro continued his breakout season with 18 points and five assists.
The junior buried a corner 3-pointer with 7:24 left to cut the deficit 62-49. DeAveiro crumpled to the ground with cramps in his leg and he remained on the ground for nearly a minute before getting up and sprinting to the locker room. DeAveiro returned to the arena several minutes later and continued to drink fluids on the sideline while waiting to get back in the game. All told, he only missed 81 seconds.
“Just (wanted) to lead this group,” DeAveiro said. “Coach (Powell) has given me the opportunity to be a captain and everyone looks up to me on the team. That really drives me, especially when we’re down. They look to me to bring that extra gear and I love doing that. I love playing for my teammates.”
The Beacons shot 63 percent in the second half as Valparaiso outscored Southern Illinois 44-33 after the break. Cooper Schwieger had nine points and seven rebounds while Sherman Weatherspoon IV added eight points in 25 minutes. Powell beamed about the freshman guard after the game.
“I told (Sherman) this was probably one of his most complete games,” Powell said. “He played under control. He had some great plays, some great backdoor cuts. He shot with confidence. He played some decent defense. He needs to build on that and be more consistent. I told him I was proud of him.”
The loss to Southern Illinois brought an end to the first quarter of action in the Valley with the Beacons being the lone winless team at 0-5. Valparaiso has now started three Valley seasons in a row with five consecutive losses. The Beacons started last year with seven straight losses, not that Powell is counting the numbers.
“My job, and the thing I’m most passionate about, is creating an experience for these guys,” Powell said. “I knew it was going to be tough this season, especially playing the young guys in the Missouri Valley. This league is old and veteran and tough. What I’m seeing out there - especially this game and the UIC game - is I’m seeing a team that is limited in experience and age. I’m seeing four freshmen that have no idea what the Valley is like. They don’t have the strength, they don’t have it right now because they’re young. I’m seeing these guys fight, I’m seeing these guys compete. I’m seeing these guys grow up. For me, building a culture like we’re doing, that’s all I can ask for. These guys are giving everything they have and that’s inspirational to me. People that know basketball, that know the league that we’re in, that know what these young guys are up against, they understand that something special is coming together.”
(Photos courtesy of Valpo Athletics)