The Valparaiso men’s basketball team became one of the nation’s first programs to hit the ten-win mark for the season on Saturday evening at the ARC, rallying from an early 12-point deficit and then holding off a Ball State rally down the stretch to earn the 65-62 win.
The Crusaders joined a group of eight teams - which consists of Kentucky, Wisconsin, Arizona, Maryland, Colorado State, Notre Dame, TCU and Valparaiso - of teams that have reached double figures in victories already this season. With the win, Valpo improved to 10-2 on the season and reached the ten-win mark earlier in the calendar year than any other team in program history.
Leading the way on Saturday was sophomore forward Alec Peters (Washington, Ill./Washington). Peters picked up the second double-double of his career, finishing the night with 23 points – his sixth 20-point effort of the year – and ten rebounds. Eight of Peters’ rebounds came in the second half, as Valpo out-rebounded BallState 25-20 over the final 20 minutes.
Trailing by six points (39-33) at intermission, the Crusaders locked down defensively coming out to start the second half, giving up just four points to Ball State over the first ten-plus minutes of the period. The Cardinals were just 2-of-14 from the floor over that stretch, while Valpo also forced five turnovers.
Despite the solid defense to start the half, Valpo still found itself down by four points, as Ball State connected on both its makes during the stretch in succession to push its lead to 43-39 with 14:09 to go in the game. But over the next four minutes, the Crusaders reeled off 11 straight points to pull ahead.
A triple by junior Darien Walker (Chicago, Ill./Simeon [John A. Logan/Arizona Western]) tied things up at 43 apiece, and an emphatic fast-break dunk from junior E. Victor Nickerson (Atlanta, Ga./Norcross [Charlotte]) made it a four-point lead just inside of 12 minutes to play. The 11-0 run was capped with a 3-pointer from Peters, pushing Valpo’s edge to 50-43 as the half reached the halfway mark.
Ball State wasn’t finished, answering with an 11-4 run over five-plus minutes, as a short jumper from Franko House tied the game at 54-54 with 4:25 remaining. But the Crusaders responded with nine consecutive points over the next three minutes, getting inside baskets from Peters and junior Keith Carter (Maywood, Ill./Proviso East [Saint Louis]) and a jumper in the lane from freshman Tevonn Walker (Montreal, Quebec/Vanier College) during the run. Darien Walker connected on a mid-range jumper with 1:27 to play to give the Crusaders their largest lead at 63-54.
The Cardinals had one final push remaining, as Sean Sellers hit a 3-pointer with 1:04 remaining to cut Valpo’s lead to six points. After a Crusader miss, Zavier Turner hit two free throws to make it a four-point game, and while Valpo hit a long pass to Tevonn Walker to break the press for a layup, Ball State came back with an old-fashioned 3-point play from Turner with 15 seconds to play to make it a 65-62 game. The Crusaders missed four free throws on their possession, giving BSU a chance at the tie, but the Valpo guards defended well, forcing a very deep, off-balance 3-point effort before the buzzer which was off the mark.
For the second straight Saturday, Valpo got off to a slow start, as Ball State scored the first nine points of the game and led 14-2 six minutes into the contest. With the deficit still 12 points at 22-10 with 9:49 to go in the half, Valpo scored 21 of the next 29 points over a span of six minutes to take its first lead of the game. Peters had eight points during the run, while Darien Walker knocked down a pair of 3-pointers as well as the Crusaders went ahead, 31-30. But Ball State closed the half with a 9-2 spurt, taking a 39-33 lead into the locker room.
Darien Walker joined Peters in double figures on Saturday, scoring 14 points, including four 3-pointers. Tevonn Walker and Nickerson each added nine points apiece. Valpo shot just 36.2% (21-of-58) from the field and just 7-of-24 from 3-point range, but got to the foul line 26 times, hitting 16 – as opposed to just nine trips to the line for Ball State.
The Crusaders ended the night with a slim 39-38 edge on the glass over the Cardinals, led by Peters’ ten boards and a career-best eight rebounds from Carter, who also handed out five assists. Valpo committed just five turnovers in the game and registered seven steals, a career-high four of which ended up in the hands of Peters.
Sellers led Ball State (3-4) with 14 points, while Turner scored 13 as well, but was just 4-of-13 from the field and committed six turnovers. The Cardinals finished hitting at a 40.4% clip from the field, but hit just one 3-pointer in the second half after knocking down eight first-half triples.
Valparaiso (10-2) takes a week off for final exams before returning to action next Saturday evening at IPFW. Tipoff is slated for 6 p.m. CT, and all the action can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Network. Links for the live audio and stats will be available at ValpoAthletics.com.