The Valparaiso men’s basketball team improved to 8-1 on the season and won its seventh straight game, utilizing a key 13-0 run late in the second half to pull away from Eastern Kentucky, eventually hanging on for a 72-66 victory over the Colonels Wednesday evening in Richmond, Ky. The win snapped EKU’s 25-game non-conference home court winning streak.
Sophomore Alec Peters (Washington, Ill./Washington) led the way for Valpo on Wednesday with another stellar shooting effort. Peters matched his career high with seven made 3-pointers, going 7-of-8 from behind the arc in a 21-point performance. The sophomore was joined in double figures by freshman Tevonn Walker (Montreal, Quebec/Vanier College), who finished with 15 points, and senior Vashil Fernandez (Kingston, Jamaica/Princeton Day [Md.] Academy), who was a perfect 6-of-6 from the floor for 12 points.
It was a one-possession game at 52-49 with 6:22 to play following a second-chance basket from EKU’s Ja’Mill Powell, but from that point, it was all Crusaders over the next three minutes. Peters started the run with a 3-pointer off a feed from junior Keith Carter (Maywood, Ill./Proviso East [Saint Louis]), and following a miss by the Colonels, the Crusaders pushed the ball on the fast break, resulting in an old-fashioned 3-point play by Walker to quickly push the lead to nine points.
After another stop, Valpo came down and worked the offense until Carter again found Peters for a trifecta. Another EKU miss led to a prolonged Crusader possession, one which ended with a basket from Fernandez, again assisted by Carter. The Crusader zone defense forced another missed 3-pointer from the Colonels, and Valpo continued to capitalize on the offensive end, as Walker hit a baseline jumper to make it 65-49 Valpo with 3:20 to go, capping the 13-0 run.
Another 3-pointer by Peters with 1:54 to play pushed the Crusaders’ advantage to 68-53, but Eastern Kentucky would rally, getting the deficit back to single figures on a 3-pointer from Corey Walden with 43 seconds remaining. The Colonels got as close as five points with 10 seconds to play following a Walden layup, but junior Darien Walker (Chicago, Ill./Simeon [John A. Logan/Arizona Western]) split a pair of free throws for the final margin, as EKU missed its final two 3-point attempts.
As it has so often during the seven-game winning streak, Valpo got off to a strong start on Wednesday. The Crusaders connected on six of their first eight attempts from the 3-point line in running out to a large early lead. A fast-break dunk from Fernandez off a feed from Carter made it 9-2 just over four minutes into the game, and the lead reached double figures for the first time as Darien Walker hit a triple 8:30 into the contest, making it 23-11 Valpo.
But the Crusaders would go cold from the field for the rest of the first half, going just 3-of-14 over the final 11:30 of the period as Eastern Kentucky rallied. The Colonels went on a 19-3 run over the next eight-plus minutes, pushing their lead to three points at 30-27 on a layup from Timmy Knipp with 3:18 to play in the half. But Valpo kept Eastern Kentucky off the board until halftime, and the Crusaders went 5-of-5 from the foul line – two from freshman David Skara (Zadar, Croatia/Ekonomska Skola Zadar) and three by junior E. Victor Nickerson (Atlanta, Ga./Norcross [Charlotte]) – over the final three minutes to take a 32-30 edge into the locker room.
The lead would change hands ten times over the first ten minutes of the second half, as that entire stretch was played within a four-point span. A tip-in by Skara just over eight minutes into the stanza tied the game up at 45-45, and two possessions later, Fernandez capitalized on the third chance of a Crusader possession with an inside basket, giving Valpo the lead for good. A three-pointer from Carter with 7:30 to go pushed the edge to five points before Powell’s putback set the stage for Valpo’s big run.
Carter added nine points and matched his career high with seven assists to help out the Crusader offense on Wednesday. Valpo ended the night hitting 49% from the field – 60% in the second half – and was 11-of-21 from the 3-point line, the Crusaders’ fifth game with at least ten triples on the season. The Crusaders had 19 assists on their 25 baskets, led by Carter’s seven, and out-rebounded EKU 39-26, paced by nine boards from Skara and seven by Peters.
Eastern Kentucky (4-2) placed four players in double figures, led by 16 points from Knipp, who connected on four 3-pointers. Walden, the Colonels’ leading scorer entering the game, finished with 13 points, but had just three over the first 38-plus minutes of the game before their late rally. The Crusaders limited EKU to just 36.1% shooting from the field, including a 12-of-37 mark (32.4%) from 3-point range.
Valparaiso (8-1) puts its seven-game winning streak on the line when it returns to the ARC for the first time in almost three weeks on Saturday evening, as the Crusaders host perennial NCAA Tournament team New Mexico at 7:05 p.m. Tickets are still available for the game, which will feature a halftime performance by the Chicago Bucket Boys, via the Valpo Ticket Office at 1-877-MY-VU-TIX or online at ValpoAthletics.com/tickets.
The game can be seen live on ESPN3.com, and as always, heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network. Links for the live video and audio, as well as live stats, will be available at ValpoAthletics.com.