It was tight all the way for the Valparaiso men's basketball team on Saturday afternoon, as the Crusaders never led Youngstown State by more than three points all game, but eight second-half 3-pointers, including the eventual game-winner inside the final minute from Bobby Capobianco (Loveland, Ohio/Loveland [Indiana]), spurred Valpo to a 68-66 victory over the Penguins from the ARC.
The win assures the Crusaders of their fourth consecutive winning season, as well as their fifth straight season above .500 in Horizon League play, the only league program to have a winning record in HL play every season during that span. After being picked sixth in the preseason poll, Valpo also assured itself no worse than a fourth-place finish in the final league standings with Saturday's victory.
Valpo trailed the Penguins by seven points - 57-50 - as the clock ticked down near the seven-minute mark of the second half, but quickly rattled off an 11-2 run over the next two minutes to take the lead. Freshman Alec Peters (Washington, Ill./Washington) kicked off the spurt with a triple, and following a defensive stop, sophomore Keith Carter (Maywood, Ill./Proviso East [Saint Louis]) drove for a layup to cut it to a two-point game.
YSU's Kendrick Perry connected on a pair of free throws with 6:13 to go to momentarily make it a two-possession game once again, but the Crusaders took advantage of an offensive rebound, kicking the ball around the perimeter to an open Capobianco, who knocked down the 3-pointer to bring Valpo within 59-58. Off a YSU miss, the Crusaders brought the ball down and senior Lavonte Dority (Chicago, Ill./Foreman [USF]) hit Peters for the rookie's fifth 3-pointer of the night, giving Valpo a 61-59 lead with five minutes to go.
Neither team would score again until the Penguins got two free throws from DJ Cole with 3:27 to play, tying the game at 61 apiece and setting up a series of punches and counter-punches between the two squads. Carter had a nice feed on the interior to junior Vashil Fernandez (Kingston, Jamaica/Princeton Day [Md.] Academy), who finished with authority to give the Crusaders a two-point lead. YSU's Ryan Weber answered with his fourth 3-pointer of the game, making it 64-63 YSU with 2:22 remaining.
Valpo responded, running its offense deep into the shot clock and eventually drawing a foul, sending Dority to the line for a one-and-one. The senior calmly drilled both to return the lead to the Crusaders, 65-64, but again YSU came back, this time with a mid-range jumper from Bobby Hain for the 11th lead change of the night as the Penguins led 66-65 with 1:16 to play.
But there would be one more lead change, as Dority tallied his sixth assist of the night, driving the lane and kicking back out to an open Capobianco at the top of the key, where he drained the triple with 58.3 seconds to go in the game. Out of a timeout, YSU would turn the ball over, but a backcourt violation on the Crusaders with 12.8 seconds to play returned the ball to the Penguins. Perry missed a 3-pointer, however, and Carter secured the rebound and was fouled with 1.5 seconds to go. Still in the one-and-one, Carter missed the front end, but the Penguins were unable to get one last heave off.
Valpo's largest lead of the game came early, as baskets in the first 3:37 by Fernandez, Peters and fifth-year senior Moussa Gueye (Thies, Senegal/SEED Academy [Alabama/Lake Land (Ill.) College]) gave the Crusaders an early 6-3 edge. A 14-2 run by the Penguins put them ahead 17-8 at the halfway mark of the first half, but a 3-pointer by freshman Clay Yeo (Bourbon, Ind./Triton) and four straight points from Dority cut the deficit to two points.
The Penguins again extended the lead to nine points, holding a 26-17 edge with five minutes to go in the opening period, but Valpo put together a 13-4 stretch, including six points from Peters, to tie things up at 30 apiece with 21 seconds remaining in the half. An inside basket from Shawn Amiker gave YSU a 32-30 halftime lead, a lead the Penguins would push up to seven points on numerous occasions through the first 11 minutes of the second half.
Peters enjoyed his best game within Horizon League play on Saturday afternoon, pacing the Crusaders with 22 points, including five 3-pointers. The freshman also pulled down six rebounds and matched a career best with three steals. Dority joined Peters in double figures with 15 points, while both Dority and Carter tallied six assists against just one turnover. Fernandez chipped in seven points and a team-high eight rebounds as well. Valpo was 8-of-18 (44.4%) from beyond the 3-point line in the second half and committed just nine turnovers for the game, including just three in the final 20 minutes.
Weber ended with a career-high 24 points to lead Youngstown State (15-14, 6-8 Horizon) on Saturday, one of four Penguins to finish in double figures. Kamren Belin closed with 14 points, while Valpo limited Perry to just 12 points on 2-of-8 shooting from the field. Hain finished with a double-double, registering 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Valparaiso (17-12, 9-5 Horizon) can clinch a third-place finish next time out, as the Crusaders travel to Dayton, Ohio to take on Wright State on Tuesday evening. The ESPN3.com exclusive broadcast will tip off at 6 p.m. CT. As always, you can also hear all the action live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network, with links for live video, audio and stats available through ValpoAthletics.com.