Facing an up-tempo style of play from Robert Morris (Ill.), the Valparaiso men's basketball team led nearly start-to-finish Saturday night at the ARC in claiming a 90-82 victory in its final exhibition game prior to the start of the 2013-14 regular season.
The Crusaders totaled 74 possessions in Saturday night's contest against the Eagles, who entered the game ranked sixth in the NAIA Division II national rankings, and still maintained a high level of offensive efficiency, averaging 1.22 points per possession. Valpo shot at a 53% clip from the field, including a 52.2% (12-of-23) mark from behind the 3-point line, and only turned the ball over 13 times. The Crusaders also grabbed 13 offensive rebounds and tallied 16 second-chance points.
Robert Morris led briefly on a trio of occasions early, but never by more than two points, and Valpo claimed the lead for good 2:33 into the game on a baseline drive and dunk by fifth-year senior Bobby Capobianco (Loveland, Ohio/Loveland [Indiana]). The Crusaders extended their lead into double digits less than nine minutes into the game on a 3-pointer by freshman Lexus Williams (Chicago, Ill./Marist), making it 25-15 Valpo.
Robert Morris rallied to within four at 34-30 with five minutes to play in the first half, but fifth-year senior Moussa Gueye (Thies, Senegal/SEED Academy [Alabama/Lake Land [Ill.] College]) gathered an offensive rebound and emphatically slammed it home to answer. Then, the next trip down the court, Gueye drove into the lane and executed a nifty spin move for another inside basket. A fast-break finish by freshman Clay Yeo (Bourbon, Ind./Triton) would give the Crusaders an 11-point lead with under two minutes to go in the opening period, but a 3-pointer by the Eagles' Sean Montgomery made it a 41-33 game at the half.
Valpo maintained a lead in the high single digits for the most part through the first six minutes of the second half before the Eagles put together a spurt to close to within 57-55 with 13 minutes to play. The Crusaders responded with an 11-2 run over the next three-plus minutes, as freshman Alec Peters (Washington, Ill./Washington) knocked down a triple, junior Vashil Fernandez (Kingston, Jamaica/Princeton Day [Md.] Academy) tipped in a Valpo miss and Williams canned a pair of mid-range jumpers before Yeo capped the spurt with a fast-break layup off a feed from senior Jordan Coleman (North Hollywood, Calif./Calabasas [Southwestern Ill. College/Hawai'i]).
Robert Morris scored the next 10 points to close to within one point, and the lead was still just one with under six minutes before a pair of seniors stepped up from beyond the 3-point line. Coleman knocked down a triple to make it 74-70 Valpo off a pass from LaVonte Dority (Chicago, Ill./Foreman [USF]), and then following a basket by the Eagles, Dority canned back-to-back triples to make it an eight-point lead with under five minutes to play. Robert Morris cut the lead to 87-82 with 39 seconds to play before the Crusaders hit three of four free throws down the stretch to keep the Eagles at bay.
Dority led five Crusaders in double figures with 18 points, while Yeo scored 16 and Williams 14, both off the bench as they combined to shoot 13-of-17 from the floor. Gueye added 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting, while Coleman chipped in 10 points. Coleman also grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds for a double-double, and Fernandez came up with seven caroms. Coleman and Dority each tallied four assists, while Fernandez blocked three shots as the Crusaders totaled nine blocks as a team.
Robert Morris was led by a game-high 38 points from Kashaune McKinney, who went 13-of-21 from the field on Saturday, including a 7-of-14 mark from beyond the 3-point line. Cortney Bell added 12 points and Montgomery 11 in the losing effort.
Valparaiso opens the regular season at the ARC on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. against Murray State. Prior to the game, the Crusaders will be raising their Horizon League Champion and NCAA Tournament banners commemorating last year's Valpo squad. If you can't make it to the game, listen live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network or watch live on the Horizon League Network. Links for the live video and audio streams, as well as live stats, will be available at ValpoAthletics.com.