Valparaiso completes road sweep with comeback victory
WBB: Dunson shines as Beacons knock off Indiana State in Valley action
TERRE HAUTE - Maya Dunson emerged from a victorious locker room and walked back to the floor of the Hulman Center. As soon as she came out of the tunnel, the Valparaiso senior received a raucous applause from the assembled friends and family of the program that made the trip to Indiana State.
Dunson earned every last clap on Sunday.
The former Loyola transfer played the best game of her college career as she scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 25 minutes off the bench. Dunson’s 3-pointer with 2:06 remaining gave the Beacons some distance in an eventual 74-69 win over the Sycamores.
“The big thing is that I just want to do what is best for the team,” Dunson said. “It feels really good to get a sweep this weekend. I want to be able to contribute on either side of the court, whether it’s with my defense or with my shooting or grabbing rebounds. I’m just very happy right now with everything.”
After being held scoreless in the first half, Dunson knocked down her first 3-pointer with 4:51 left in the third quarter. The shot tied the game and helped the Beacons come all the way back from an early 13-point deficit. She added another triple moments later as Valparaiso and Indiana State began trading the lead back and forth.
Valparaiso carried a 51-50 lead into the fourth quarter and the game stayed tight throughout the final period. Indiana State pulled ahead 61-57 before Grace White stole the ball and scored off a fast break and then Dunson provided one of her biggest highlights of the season. She fought for an offensive rebound after White missed a 3-pointer and finished off the possession with a jumper to tie the game at 61-61 with 4:39 remaining. The basket was Valparaiso’s lone second chance field goal in the game.
“We don’t get a lot of second chance points, so every time we do, it’s so crucial,” Dunson said.
Dunson continued to make big plays as she buried her third 3-pointer with 2:06 remaining. The shot pushed Valpo’s lead to 67-63 and then the 5-foot-11 forward ripped down her final rebound on Indiana State’s next possession. The Sycamores finished with 22 offensive rebounds, but Dunson wasn’t going to be denied on one of the biggest possessions of the game.
As much as Dunson’s rebounds played a big role in pulling out the victory, her three 3-pointers were huge. Dunson came into the game shooting just 16.7 percent (8-48) from the 3-point line this season. Indiana State left her alone on the perimeter and Dunson made the Sycamores pay every time.
“This all comes from the work I’ve put in these last few weeks,” Dunson said. “I’ve been struggling with my shot and I’ve been talking to everybody. Talking to coach (Mary Evans), talking to my dad, talking to (assistant coach Dominique) Duck. I’ve been getting these extra shots up. I’ve been putting in the work and today it showed.”
Dunson was far from Valpo’s only impact player on Sunday. Shay Frederick led the Beacons with 19 points and six assists. The senior point guard set a program record by going 14-14 from the free throw line. Leah Earnest scored nine of her 12 points in the third quarter and Grace White filled up the box score with 13 points, five rebounds, two assists and three blocks. White’s final point gave her 1,000 for her career. She is the third Valpo player (Frederick, Carie Weinman) to hit that mark this season.
“We showed a lot of heart and we showed a ton, just a ton, of toughness,” Evans said. “Everyone that entered the game left some impact on the game today.”
Evans was physically and emotionally spent after the game. The Beacons dealt with a bus trip that took nearly 12 hours on Thursday, an overtime game on Friday, a practice on Saturday where the coaching staff scrambled to put in a new defense for Sunday’s game, and then a back-and-forth battle against the Sycamores that featured 11 ties and five lead changes.
In a season where few things went right at the beginning of the year, and members of the program could’ve checked out at any time, Sunday’s win may have been the most satisfying. Evans was choked up while talking about her players.
“This team is a talented team,” Evans said. “This team has continued to stay focused and it shows their true character. To start a year the way we did, to keep your head up and keep fighting and keep believing and stay true to what we talk about. It’s about working every single day and just trying to get a little bit better. The goal is to always pay our best basketball in March.
“We got off to that rough start, got a couple of wins and then went through a COVID patch. Beating Drake on the road was big for our confidence and I hope this weekend is a big weekend too. To go on the road and sweep a weekend is not something that happens in the Missouri Valley. It showed a lot of toughness for them to go and do what they did this weekend.”
Evans was punctuating every word as she continued.
“Winning is hard,” Evans said. “A lot of people that follow college athletics don’t understand what these kids do, what they sacrifice. Sometimes its easy for people to say things about people, but these kids bust their butt and they care a lot. It’s hard to win college basketball games.”
Shay Frederick’s 19 points on Sunday were enough to vault her into ninth place on Valparaiso’s career scoring list with 1,219 points. She passed Marlous Nieuwveen and Tabitha Gerardot and now sits just five points behind Stephanie Greer for eighth place.
Valparaiso didn’t clinch a spot in the top six of the Missouri Valley Conference standings on Sunday, but the Beacons put themselves in great position with the victory. Valpo is two up in the loss column on Drake and Indiana State and would hold any tiebreaker with the Bulldogs. The Beacons host Loyola on Friday at the Athletics-Recreation Center in a game that would go a long way in securing a first round bye at next month’s Hoops in the Heartland.
This brings an end to a great weekend of basketball. When I decided to step away from traditional journalism and start The Victory Bell, it was with weekends like this in mind. Three games in three days and having a chance to get a bit closer to the action than I have in recent years, it was a lot of fun. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Valparaiso women’s basketball parents that I had a chance to interact with over the last few days. Just some good people. Also the staff, who I watched fight through a really tough Wordle puzzle on Sunday morning. It’s moments like that which bring the humanity to a lot of this stuff we do. Look, I’m not going out there cheering for Valpo to win every game (I still have a job to do), but I am cheering for good people. I saw a lot of them this weekend.
The Victory Bell will be back in action this week with more home basketball as well as a look at what happened in some of the spring sports that are just getting underway.