The Valparaiso men’s basketball team raised its 2014-15 championship banners to the rafters prior to Friday night’s season opener, and then the 2015-16 squad started its quest to replicate and surpass the success of last year, taking down IPFW at the ARC by a 78-64 final.
The win made it four straight seasons that the Crusaders have opened a season with a victory. Even more impressive, Valpo has now won 11 consecutive home openers dating back to 2004, with 10 of those victories coming by double figures.
Leading the way for Valpo on Friday was preseason All-League honoree Alec Peters (Washington, Ill./Washington). Peters, who ranked among the nation’s most efficient players last season, was his usual efficient self against the Mastodons, scoring 24 points on just 12 field goal attempts. The junior was 7-of-12 from the floor and 9-of-10 from the foul line in the winning effort.
Unlike the Crusaders’ exhibition victory, however, Peters had a number of teammates step up offensively alongside him. Sophomore David Skara (Zadar, Croatia/ Ekonomska Skola Zadar) dropped in 14 points off the bench to match his career high against D-I opposition, going 5-of-8 from the floor and hitting a pair of 3-pointers. Skara grabbed seven rebounds as well to match Peters and junior Jubril Adekoya (Tinley Park, Ill./Andrew) for game-high honors.
Rounding out the group of four Crusaders in double figures were senior Keith Carter (Maywood, Ill./Proviso East [Saint Louis]) and redshirt junior Shane Hammink (Millingen aan de Rijn, Netherlands/Oakley College [LSU]). Carter went 5-of-7 from the foul line in a 10-point, four-assist, three-steal effort, while Hammink – making his regular season debut as a Crusader – also got to the foul line effectively, going 2-of-3 from the field and 6-of-8 from the stripe for 10 points in just 16 minutes of action.
Valpo led by as many as 10 points in the first half, but the Mastodons would rally to within four late before the Crusaders carried a 34-29 edge into the locker room. Back-to-back alley-oops to senior Vashil Fernandez (Kingston, Jamaica/Princeton Day [Md.] Academy) made it a 40-33 Crusader lead with 17:11 to play, but IPFW would score seven points over the next two minutes to tie things up at 40 apiece.
The Crusaders would not allow the Mastodons to claim the lead in the second stanza, however, as after a timeout from head coach Bryce Drew, Valpo strung together a 10-0 run over the next 2:20. Four different players contributed baskets during the spurt, as Adekoya and Peters made shots from inside the arc, while sophomore Tevonn Walker (Montreal, Quebec/Vanier College) and Skara knocked down 3-pointers on the fast break.
IPFW didn’t go quietly in the night though, closing to within four points on two occasions after that point. The Mastodons cut the lead to 59-55 with 7:15 to go before the Crusaders scored six points over their next three possessions, and then again moved within 65-61 with 4:11 remaining. Skara grabbed a key offensive rebound on the ensuing possession and hit Peters for a layup later in the trip to halt the IPFW momentum, and then with it still a six-point game with less than three minutes to play, Peters connected on a triple on a set play out of the media timeout to ice the game.
Valpo finished the night just 5-of-16 from 3-point range, but got to the foul line 38 times, making 25 free throws. IPFW (0-1) went 9-of-22 from downtown, but the Crusaders limited the Mastodons to just 15 free throw attempts. Valpo held a 39-29 advantage on the glass and forced 18 IPFW turnovers on the evening. Mo Evans led the Mastodons with 17 points.
Valparaiso (1-0) continues its hectic early-season slate with a 1:30 p.m. tip at the ARC Sunday afternoon as the Crusaders host preseason MAAC favorite Iona. The game can be seen live on ESPN3.com and heard live on WVUR, with links for the live video, audio and stats available via ValpoAthletics.com.