The Valparaiso men’s basketball team opened exhibition play for the 2013-14 season with a 69-60 victory over Hillsdale College Saturday evening at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
Having lost six seniors from last year’s Horizon League championship squad, the Crusaders leaned heavily on their seven newcomers Saturday evening. 114 of the 200 minutes played came from newcomers to the Valpo uniform, including 86 minutes from the set of five freshmen on this year’s squad.
“As a coaching staff, we talked about our philosophy for the exhibition games,” said Crusader head coach Bryce Drew. “We felt it really important to get the newcomers in front of the fans, under the lights in a game setting. We wanted to play a team that would be very challenging as well, and we feel like Hillsdale will have a really good year.”
It was a freshman who led the way for Valpo on Saturday, as Alec Peters (Washington, Ill./Washington) earned the start, played 24 minutes and scored a team-high 17 points to go with six rebounds. 13 of Peters’ 17 points came in the final 20 minutes to help the Crusaders rally from a five-point halftime deficit.
Both members of the starting backcourt also reached double figures on Saturday. Senior LaVonte Dority (Chicago, Ill./Foreman), the reigning Horizon League Sixth Man of the Year, poured in 15 points from his starting point guard position, while senior Jordan Coleman (N. Hollywood, Calif./Calabasas [Southwestern Ill. College/Hawai’i]) tallied 12 points, including an 8-of-10 effort from the foul line, and added five rebounds.
The Crusaders’ defensive effort was key, as Valpo held Hillsdale to just 30.4% (21-of-69) shooting from the floor, including a 24% (6-of-25) clip from beyond the 3-point line. A large part of it was strong interior play from Valpo, as it tallied 11 total team blocks, a mark which would have tied the program single-game record were it a regular season game. Junior Vashil Fernandez (Kingston, Jamaica/Princeton Day [Md.] Academy) rejected six shots, while five Crusaders in all had at least one blocked shot.
It was slow going in the first half for the Crusaders as they attempted to integrate the large group of newcomers with the four returnees. Valpo led by four points just under five minutes in at 11-7 following a fast-break three-point play from Coleman, but Hillsdale scored the next seven points and would lead the remainder of the half. The Chargers earned their largest lead of the opening 20 minutes at 34-27 with under a minute to play, but freshman Clay Yeo (Bourbon, Ind./Triton) knocked down a pair of free throws to bring Valpo within five at the break.
“We threw lots of combinations out there in the first half – tried to get everyone’s feet wet,” said Drew. “We had lineups on the floor that haven’t had the chance to even practice together. We wanted to make sure everyone had a chance to play, and then tried to narrow down our lineups as the game went on.”
The deficit was still four points three minutes into the second half before Valpo put together an 11-0 run to claim the lead for good. Dority started the run with a circus driving layup and added another fast-break layup later in the spurt, while Fernandez threw down a two-handed slam. Yeo and freshman Lexus Williams (Chicago, Ill./Marist) both added fast-break baskets of their own, the latter capping the run and giving the Crusaders a 46-39 lead with 12:41 to play.
Hillsdale had crept back within four points at 48-44 before Peters hit a triple with 9:41 to play to push the lead back to seven. The freshman then knocked down another 3-pointer less than two minutes later to make it 57-46 Crusaders. The Chargers got back to within six points with 2:41 remaining, but Fernandez corralled an offensive rebound, went back up and dunked it on Valpo’s next offensive trip, and Hillsdale would get no closer than eight points the rest of the way.
“I feel like everything started to come together in the second half,” said Drew. “Our defense really stepped up, helped get us some transition layups, and then Alec hit some big 3-pointers for us.”
Freshman Jubril Adekoya (Tinley Park, Ill./Andrew) led the Crusader effort on the glass with eight rebounds. Yeo paced Valpo with three assists and joined Coleman with two steals apiece.
Kyle Cooper led Hillsdale with 22 points and 13 rebounds. Tim Dezelski contributed 16 points and nine boards in the losing effort.
Valparaiso will close out exhibition play next Saturday evening at 7:05 p.m. at the ARC against Robert Morris (Ill.). The game can be heard live on WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso, with links for live audio and live stats available at ValpoAthletics.com.