The Valparaiso University men’s basketball team put together yet another in a string of stellar defensive efforts this evening on Tuesday evening at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio as the Crusaders eased past Cleveland State, 66-43.
The 43 points Valpo surrendered to the Vikings was the fewest the Crusaders have given up against a Division I opponent this season, while it was also the sixth time this season Valpo’s opponent has finished with 47 or fewer points. The Crusaders limited CSU to just 28.6% shooting from the field, also the worst mark by a Division I opponent this year, and the Vikings were just 8-of-36 (22.2%) from inside the 3-point line.
The Crusaders surrendered just 17 first-half points and slowly pulled away to gain a 12-point halftime lead. The lead was just two points at 9-7 at the 14:25 mark of the first half, but Valpo held CSU scoreless over the next seven minutes, deliberately increasing its lead to nine points as sophomore Tevonn Walker (Montreal, Quebec/Vanier College) hit a 3-pointer and junior Alec Peters (Washington, Ill./Washington) had a pair of putbacks in the paint.
Cleveland State would break the skid with a jumper by Andre Yates with 7:14 to play in the half, but thanks to back-to-back mid-range jumpers by junior Jubril Adekoya (Tinley Park, Ill./Andrew), Valpo extended its lead into double figures for the first time. The Vikings cut the lead to nine points twice in the late stages of the first half, but both times the Crusaders answered, taking a 29-17 lead into the locker room.
Two 3-pointers for CSU brought the Vikings within 33-23 with 16:09 to play, but that was as close as they would get the rest of the way, as Valpo reeled off a 15-2 run over the next six minutes. The Crusaders went 6-of-10 from the field during that stretch while holding the Vikings to 1-of-5 shooting and a pair of turnovers.
Peters got free for his lone 3-pointer of the game to start the run, and senior Keith Carter (Maywood, Ill./Proviso East [Saint Louis]) drove for a layup while being fouled on the next trip. Carter missed the free throw, but chased down his own rebound to extend the possession – one which would eventually end on an inside basket by Adekoya. Sophomore David Skara (Zadar, Croatia/Ekonomska Skola Zadar) converted a 3-point play and hit a 3-pointer later in the run, which was capped by an inside basket from Walker with 10:25 to play, making it 48-25. Cleveland State would get no closer than 20 points after that point.
Peters ended the game with his ninth double-double of the year, five of which have come within Horizon League play, as he posted team highs with 15 points and 10 rebounds. With his second point of the game, Peters also moved into 11th place on Valpo’s career scoring chart. Walker added 13 points and five rebounds, while on the defensive end, senior Vashil Fernandez (Kingston, Jamaica/Princeton Day [Md.] Academy) blocked six shots – the third time in the last four games he has rejected six attempts.
As a team, Valpo shot 45.8% from the field, including a 55.6% mark in the final 20 minutes. The Crusaders also continued their dominance on the glass, out-rebounding the Vikings 41-31 – the ninth time within league play they’ve out-rebounded their opponents by double digits. Valpo also dominated inside, out-scoring CSU in the paint, 38-14, and turning 15 offensive rebounds into 21 second-chance points.
Cleveland State (8-19, 3-11 Horizon) was led by 11 points from Rob Edwards, but he was the only Viking to reach double figures. The Crusaders limited CSU leading scorer Demonte Flannigan to just six points on 3-of-10 shooting and also forced him into six turnovers.
Valparaiso (22-5, 12-2 Horizon) returns home for a huge league showdown with Oakland on Friday evening. With a win on Friday, the Crusaders would secure at least a share of their fourth league regular season championship in the last five years. The game is set for a 7 p.m. tip and will be broadcast live on ESPNU. As always, the game can also be heard on WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso), with links for the live video, audio and stats available via ValpoAthletics.com.