The Valparaiso University men’s basketball team went toe-to-toe with ACC foe Wake Forest in the fifth place game at the Myrtle Beach Invitational in Conway, S.C. on Sunday morning, but the Demon Deacons took the lead for good with 15 minutes to play as Valpo fell by a 69-63 final score in its tournament finale. Junior Derrik Smits (Zionsville, Ind./Zionsville) set a new career high by scoring 23 points.
How It Happened
- Valpo got off to a strong start on Sunday, scoring 12 points in the first 4:30 of the game. Smits opened the game with back-to-back baskets, while junior Ryan Fazekas (Chesterton, Ind./Marquette Catholic [Providence]) and freshman Javon Freeman (Chicago, Ill./Whitney Young) each knocked down an early 3-pointer as Valpo led 12-9.
- Wake Forest reeled off a quick 9-0 run over the next three minutes to jump ahead by six, starting a stretch in which Valpo would score just 10 points over a span of 14:30. With a minute to play in the first half, Wake Forest led 31-22.
- But Valpo closed the half strong. Freshman Daniel Sackey (Winnipeg, Manitoba/Thornlea) converted on a driving layup, and senior Deion Lavender (Alton, Ill./Marquette Catholic [UAB/Southern Illinois]) was fouled on a rebound on the defensive end and hit two free throws.
- After a second-chance basket for Wake Forest, what looked to be Valpo’s final shot of the half was off the mark, but Fazekas was fouled on the rebound with 1.5 seconds left in the period – a foul which was judged a flagrant one. The junior hit both free throws, and then retaining possession, Lavender connected with sophomore Mileek McMillan (Merrillville, Ind./Merrillville) on a slip for a dunk right before the buzzer as Valpo was within 33-30 at the break.
- Valpo started the second half on a 6-0 run, with Smits knocking down a pair of baskets around a Fazekas fast-break layup as Valpo led 36-33 with 16:44 to play. The lead would trade hands three times over the next 90 seconds, with a layup by freshman McDonald’s All-American Jaylen Hoard giving Wake Forest the lead for good with 15:12 to play.
- Out of the under-12 media timeout, Smits connected on two free throws to bring Valpo within 47-44. Incredibly, the two squads would go the next 5:52 without a whistle – Valpo went 4-for-9 during that stretch without turning the ball over, while Wake Forest was 4-for-7 and committed four turnovers, the last of which was Valpo’s defense forcing a shot clock violation with 5:50 to play. The end result was the Demon Deacons extending their lead by one point, to 56-52.
- The key stretch came right out of that media timeout, as after McMillan converted on a nice move inside to cut the deficit to two points, Wake Forest scored six points on its next two possessions to go up 62-54. Wake extended its lead to nine points with 3:31 to play, and Valpo would not have an opportunity to get any closer than three down the stretch.
Inside the Game
- The game was Valpo’s first against an ACC opponent since hosting Florida State at the ARC in the second round of the 2016 NIT.
- Sunday was Valpo’s first loss in its last nine games which tipped off before noon local time. Valpo’s last loss in an AM game came back against Kentucky in the 2002 NCAA Tournament.
- Smits enjoyed the best output of his career on the offensive end, going 9-of-16 from the floor and 5-of-6 from the foul line for his 23 points, surpassing his 22-point effort in last year’s regular season finale at Drake. He also grabbed seven rebounds to lead Valpo.
- Freeman was the only other Crusader in double figures, finishing with 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting. He is now the first Valpo freshman in at least three decades to open his career in the Brown and Gold with four consecutive double-figure scoring outputs.
- Lavender continued to distribute the ball effectively, tallying six assists on Sunday to go with six points and five rebounds. He is the first Valpo player in at least three decades to open a season with four straight games of five or more assists, while his 23 assists over the season’s first four games are the most since Brandon Wood handed out 24 in the first four games of the 2010-11 season.
- 3-point shooting and second chance points proved to be the difference on Sunday. Wake Forest went 7-for-16 from deep, while Valpo was just 4-for-19. The Demon Deacons also grabbed 13 offensive rebounds, turning them into 16 second-chance points.
Valpo (2-2) returns home to the ARC for a Thanksgiving appetizer on Wednesday evening, as it hosts SIUE at 7 p.m. The game can be seen live on ESPN+.