Valparaiso, Ind. - Dan Oppland scored 19 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, and Kikas Gomes added 17 points and 10 rebounds as Valpo defeated UMKC 70-60. The win, Valpo's ninth in the last 10 games, propelled the Crusaders (13-10, 10-4) into first place in the Mid-Continent Conference.
Greg Tonagel netted 13 points and Ali Berdiel dished out a game-high nine assists for Valpo. UMKC was led by Michael Watson's 20 points, including 14 in the second half.
Valpo, which led the entire game, held off a furious UMKC comeback in the closing minutes. After trailing by as many as 20 points (46-26) with 17 minutes left, the Kangaroos cut their deficit to four (60-56) with 2:23 remaining.
The Crusaders responded by draining 10 straight free throws in the final 2:05. Tonagel made four-of-four, Kenny Harris swished two-of-two, Berdiel converted two-of-two and Oppland added two more during a 10-4 run to finish the game.
Overall, free throw marksmanship played a major role for the Crusaders as they made 85 percent (17-of-20) from the charity stripe. In fact, Valpo made its last basket (a 3-pointer by Tonagel) with 6:07 left and converted 13-of-14 free throws the rest of the way. Valpo also shot 3-pointers effectively in the final 20 minutes, making 5-of-10, including two by Gomes.
Watson and Mike English fueled a 30-14 UMKC run with 12 and 11 points, respectively, during a 15-minute period in the second half.
Valpo built a big first-half advantage as Oppland scored 13 and Gomes added nine points before intermission. A 26-9 run gave Valpo a 32-14 lead with 3:30 left.
Gomes notched his 10th double-double this season and Oppland recorded his fifth. A 6'8" sophomore, Oppland made 7-of-9 shots. Tonagel came off the bench to drain 3-of-6, 3-point attempts.
The Crusaders outrebounded the Kangaroos 39-32. The contest featured solid defense as Valpo finished shooting 43 percent overall to 38 percent for UMKC. The Kangaroos made 14- of-20 free throw attempts.
As a result of IUPUI's loss at Chicago State, Valpo has two more wins than the Jaguars (8-4) and Centenary (8-4). The Crusaders have two conference games remaining, while IUPUI and Centenary have four left. IUPUI hosts Centenary next Saturday.
Valpo's next game is next Saturday at Southern Utah beginning at 8:35 p.m. CST.