In another classic matchup in the series, it was the Valparaiso University men’s basketball team which held off Oakland runs throughout Friday night’s matchup at the ARC, as the Crusaders led nearly start to finish and staved off one final rally from the Golden Grizzlies at the end to earn an 86-84 victory. With the win, Valpo secured at least a share of the Horizon League regular season championship – its fourth such title in the last five seasons.
The Crusader lead was six points at 68-62 with 8:40 remaining, but Valpo’s defense showed out over the next five minutes, holding Oakland without a field goal over that stretch. The Crusaders used their defense to put together a quick 8-0 spurt, as senior Keith Carter (Maywood, Ill./Proviso East [Saint Louis]) had a putback basket, senior Vashil Fernandez (Kingston, Jamaica/Princeton Day [Md.] Academy) threw down a pair of monster dunks and junior Alec Peters (Washington, Ill./Washington) connected on a mid-range jumper to push the lead to 76-62 just two minutes later.
The lead was still in the mid-teens following yet another dunk from Fernandez, his fifth of the night, with 4:19 to play as Valpo led 80-65. But the Golden Grizzlies had one final push, scoring 10 points over their next five possessions and holding the Crusaders scoreless over the same span to close within 80-75 with 2:11 remaining.
Empty possessions for both teams led to the Crusaders having the ball with the clock ticking down towards the one-minute mark. Valpo ran down the shot clock before running a quick set to get Peters an open look from the right wing, and the junior drilled it from 3-point range, pushing the advantage back to eight points with just under a minute to go.
A pair of missed free throws on Valpo’s end and a 3-point play by Oakland cut the lead back to four points, and a turnover gave the Golden Grizzlies possession with 23 seconds to play. But Oakland missed a pair of 3-point attempts and would never have the ball with a chance to tie in the final seconds, as the Crusaders hit three of their final four free throw attempts to secure the win.
Valpo held off numerous pushes from the Golden Grizzlies throughout the second half to set up the drama of the final few minutes. Oakland cut the eight-point Crusader halftime edge to a one-possession game three times in the first nine minutes of the half, and all three times Valpo would score on its next trip. The first time, senior Darien Walker (Chicago, Ill./Simeon [John A. Logan/Arizona Western]) hit a pair of free throws, and later in the half, Peters knocked down a mid-range jumper on a second-chance opportunity. An 18-footer from junior Jubril Adekoya (Tinley Park, Ill./Andrew) at the 11:38 mark kept the Golden Grizzlies at bay after they had made it a two-point game.
Two free throws with 10:28 to play cut Valpo’s lead to 62-59, and this time Oakland would get the ball back with a chance to tie. But a missed 3-pointer was rebounded by senior E. Victor Nickerson (Atlanta, Ga./Norcross [Charlotte]) as he was fouled, sending him to the foul line. Nickerson would miss the front end of the one-and-one, but alertly grabbed his own board and laid it in. Then, on the ensuing possession, Nickerson came up with a steal and was fouled, hitting two more free throws to push the lead back to seven points and set up the closing minutes.
It was Carter doing work early on in the game, scoring Valpo’s first five points, blocking a shot from behind and spiking the ball volleyball-style out of mid-air for a steal in just the first four minutes alone. His play would spark an early 10-0 run from the Crusaders, and then a bit later, Valpo strung together eight straight points as well to go ahead 29-12 at the 9:43 mark of the half. Oakland would out-score the Crusaders the remainder of the first half, 26-17, to cut Valpo’s advantage to 46-38 at the half.
Six Crusader players ended the night in double figures, led by the uber-efficient play of Peters. The junior went 6-of-7 from the floor, capped with his big last-minute 3-pointer, to finish with a team-high 16 points. Peters also matched a career best with 14 rebounds as well.
Peters had plenty of help offensively though. Carter and Fernandez each finished with 13 points apiece, the former adding seven assists and the latter blocking three shots as well. Adekoya knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in a 12-point, six-rebound effort off the bench. Junior Shane Hammink (Millingen aan de Rijn, Netherlands/Oakley College [LSU]) finished with 11 points, while sophomore Tevonn Walker (Montreal, Quebec/Vanier College) added 10 points.
Kay Felder led all players with 26 points for Oakland (19-10, 11-5 Horizon) and added eight assists as well. Jalen Hayes scored 19 for the Golden Grizzlies, while Martez Walker finished with 17 points and Percy Gibson 14 points and 12 rebounds off the bench. Valpo forced Oakland into 14 turnovers while committing just six turnovers of its own, finishing with a 15-2 advantage in points off turnovers.
Valparaiso (23-5, 13-2 Horizon) looks to secure the outright league regular season title on Sunday as the Crusaders host Detroit on Senior Day at the ARC. Tip is set for 1:30 p.m., and as always, all the action can be seen live on ESPN3 and heard live on WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso). Links for the live audio, video and stats will be available at ValpoAthletics.com.