The Valparaiso University men’s basketball team claimed its third victory in an 86-hour span to open the 2015-16 campaign on Tuesday morning, as playing live on ESPN2 as part of the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon, the Crusaders led for the game’s final 15 minutes in a 58-55 win at Rhode Island.
Valpo trailed by two points at the break, but took the lead for good five minutes into the second half on an inside bucket from senior Vashil Fernandez (Kingston, Jamaica/Princeton Day [Md.] Academy). Senior Keith Carter (Maywood, Ill./Proviso East [Saint Louis]) then stepped up, scoring 10 points in the next 10 minutes, capped by a 3-pointer following a URI turnover in the backcourt to make it 51-42 Crusaders with 4:33 to play.
The Rams had a run in them, out-scoring the Crusaders 8-2 over the next two-plus minutes to make it a one-possession game. URI actually looked to cut the lead to one point with 1:43 to play, but missed a pair of free throws and senior Darien Walker (Chicago, Ill./Simeon [John A. Logan/Arizona Western]) came away with the rebound. On the ensuing possession, Valpo ran the clock down before running a set to get an open 3-pointer for Alec Peters (Washington, Ill./Washington), and the junior drilled the triple with 1:17 on the clock to make it 56-50.
Rhode Island had one more push, as Four McGlynn hit an off-balance 3-pointer to cut the lead to three, and then following a blocked shot on its defensive end, Jared Terrell finished inside to make it a 56-55 ballgame with 34 seconds to play. The Rams looked to foul, but the Crusaders ran 14 seconds off the clock before URI committed a foul – just its sixth foul of the half. Then, Valpo inbounded the ball and ran eight more seconds off without being fouled before calling its final timeout at the 12.5 second mark.
On the inbounds, the Crusaders ran 2.6 more seconds, leaving just 9.9 seconds to play when Peters was fouled. Sent to the line for a 1-and-1, the junior calmly sank both to push the lead back to 58-55. Following a timeout, URI got McGlynn an open look at the potential game-tying 3-pointer, but it rimmed out and his desperation second effort was off the mark as well as the Crusaders earned a solid non-league road victory.
To say the first half was a struggle offensively both ways would be an understatement. Both teams closed the opening 20 minutes under 30% from the floor, and Valpo went nearly 10 minutes at one point without a field goal. Four baskets from sophomore Tevonn Walker (Montreal, Quebec/Vanier College) accounted for half of the Crusaders’ first-half field goals, the last of which was a mid-range jumper to give Valpo an 18-17 lead inside the final 30 seconds of the half.
The Rams’ Jared Terrell hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give URI a 20-18 edge at the break. But Valpo would come out in the second half with a renewed look offensively, hitting four field goals in the first four minutes of the period. A minute later, Fernandez converted inside for the go-ahead basket as the Crusaders would eventually finish the final 20 minutes shooting 58.3% from the floor.
Four of the Crusaders’ five starters finished Tuesday’s game in double figures in the scoring column, led by 14 points from Peters. The junior was limited to just 4-of-12 shooting from the field, but was a perfect 5-of-5 from the foul line – none more clutch than his final two. Fernandez matched his career high with six field goals made in a 12-point effort, 10 of which came in the second half.
Carter was scoreless at halftime, but was a perfect 4-of-4 from the floor in the second half, including two 3-pointers, to finish with 12 points. Tevonn Walker added 12 points as well on 6-of-11 shooting. Darien Walker paced Valpo on the glass with nine rebounds, as the Crusaders out-rebounded Rhode Island by a 41-32 margin, while Carter came up with three of Valpo’s eight team steals.
Rhode Island (1-1) also placed four players in double figures, with McGlynn leading the way with 13 points, including three 3-pointers. Terrell and Jarvis Garrett scored 11 points apiece. Hassan Martin approached a triple-double as well, finishing with 10 points, 10 rebounds and six blocked shots.
There’s no rest for the weary, as Valparaiso (3-0) flies back home Tuesday evening before facing the first of back-to-back home games Wednesday and Thursday nights at the ARC. The first of the two games tips at 7 p.m. on Wednesday against IU Kokomo. The game can be seen live on ESPN3 and heard live on WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso), with links for the live video, audio and stats available at ValpoAthletics.com.