Valparaiso University men’s basketball senior Vashil Fernandez (Kingston, Jamaica/Princeton Day [Md.] Academy) set the Crusaders’ career blocked shots record Saturday afternoon as Valpo won its 20th game of the season with a 73-55 victory at UIC. With the win, the Crusaders maintain their spot atop the Horizon League standings.
Fernandez came into the game needing just one block to match and two to break Raitis Grafs’ record of 228 career blocks, and wasted little time in doing so. The senior rejected a Jake Wiegand layup attempt with 12:23 to play in the first half, and then just 40 seconds later, swatted another Wiegand shot to establish a new mark.
Fernandez, who matched Valpo’s then-single game blocks record at UIC as a sophomore and broke the Crusaders’ single-season blocks record in the UIC Pavilion as a junior, finished with six blocked shots to go with eight points and nine rebounds, closing the day with 233 career blocked shots.
Meanwhile, as often seems to be the case when the Crusaders play in Chicago, the natives of the Windy City area stepped up with strong games. Senior Keith Carter (Maywood, Ill./Proviso East) was on point running the point Saturday, handing out eight assists – one shy of his career high – and posting a career-best five steals to go with six points.
Senior Darien Walker (Chicago, Ill./Simeon [John A. Logan/Arizona Western]) scored in double figures for the fifth time in Horizon League play, recording 12 points and five rebounds off the bench. Meanwhile, junior Jubril Adekoya (Tinley Park, Ill./Andrew) followed up his 16-point effort last Saturday with 11 points and six rebounds in Saturday’s win over the Flames.
It was a slow start for the Crusaders on Saturday, as five and a half minutes into the game, the lead was just two points at 9-7. But, as so often has been the case this year, the defense stepped up – in this case, limiting UIC to just seven points over the next nine-plus minutes. The result was a 20-7 stretch that pushed the Valpo lead to 15 points, as eight different Crusaders scored during the run.
UIC would close to within 12 points at 31-19 as the clock ticked inside two minutes on the first half, but Valpo ended the period on a quick 10-2 spurt to go into the locker room ahead 41-21. Junior Alec Peters (Washington, Ill./Washington) started the end-of-half run with a 3-pointer and also had a tip-in on the fast break, while Adekoya knocked down a deep jumper and then a triple of his own to put the Crusaders ahead by 20 at the break.
A ragged beginning to the second half for the Crusaders saw UIC rally, as an 8-0 Flames run erased nearly half of the deficit and UIC got to within 12 points on a Dikembe Dixson basket with 12:27 remaining. But Valpo’s defense held the Flames without a field goal for the next five-plus minutes, and the Crusaders went on an 11-2 run – including four points each from Adekoya and Walker – over that stretch to push the lead back to 21 points and put the game away.
Peters joined Adekoya and Walker in double figures, scoring a team-best 15 points and also grabbing seven rebounds. The Crusaders shot just 43.1% from the field, including just 7-of-23 from 3-point range, but pulled down 20 offensive rebounds and converted them into 22 second-chance points. Overall, Valpo out-rebounded the Flames 48-41, with the +7 margin marking the Crusaders’ lowest advantage on the glass in league play.
UIC (3-19, 1-10 Horizon) saw Dixson lead all players with 18 points, but the Crusaders harassed the freshman into 7-of-23 shooting from the field. Michael Kolawole added 16 points, while Tai Odiase chipped in 10 points. The Flames shot just 32.8% from the field and were just 2-of-15 from the 3-point line, while also struggling at the free throw line – finishing at 46.9% (15-of-32) from the charity stripe.
Valparaiso (20-4, 10-1 Horizon) returns home to the ARC next weekend for two more games, kicking off Thursday evening with a 7 p.m. tip against league newcomer Northern Kentucky. As always, the game can be seen on ESPN3 and heard live on WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso), with links for the live video, audio and stats available via ValpoAthletics.com.