The Valparaiso University men’s basketball team rallied from an early nine-point deficit to take the lead in the first half, and then went shot for shot with West Virginia through the first 10 minutes of the second half, but the Mountaineers pulled away in the last 10 minutes as Valpo fell by an 88-76 final in Morgantown, W.V. Senior Deion Lavender (Alton, Ill./Marquette Catholic [UAB/Southern Illinois]) handed out 10 assists without committing a turnover, while junior Derrik Smits (Zionsville, Ind./Zionsville) finished with a team-high 20 points and five blocked shots.
How It Happened
- West Virginia got out to a quick start, leading 14-5 just 4:25 into the game as it scored on six of its first eight possessions of the game.
- The Mountaineer lead was still eight following a putback by Jermaine Haley with 11:50 to play in the first half, as Valpo trailed 18-10.
- But the Brown and Gold out-scored WVU 11-2 over the next four minutes to take their first lead at 21-20. The run was capped by back-to-back deep jumpers from junior Ryan Fazekas (Chesterton, Ind./Marquette Catholic [Providence]), one a 3-pointer and one a long 2-point field goal.
- The teams traded buckets over the next few possessions, with Lavender connecting on a 3-pointer with 6:01 to play in the half to give Valpo its largest lead at 26-24.
- WVU out-scored Valpo 10-3 over the next three-plus minutes to regain the lead and push its advantage to five points. Valpo would get to within one late in the half on an inside basket from Smits, but the Mountaineers scored the final basket of the period on an Esa Ahmad jumper as Valpo trailed 39-36 at the break.
- The first six minutes of the second half were like a heavyweight fight, with both offenses trading blows. Valpo went 6-for-8, including a perfect 4-for-4 from the 3-point line, over that stretch – led by a pair of 3-pointers from Fazekas.
- But Valpo ended up losing ground over that stretch, as West Virginia scored 18 points of its own over the first six minutes of the second half to lead 57-52. Valpo tied the score twice over the opening few minutes, but was never able to regain the lead outright.
- The pace slowed a bit over the next four minutes, with Valpo closing to within two at 63-61 on a Smits layup with 10:19 to play. But WVU’s Sagaba Konate hit a 3-pointer – his fourth of the second half after hitting just five in the first four and a half games of the season – to extend the lead back to five points.
- Konate’s triple kicked off a 9-0 spurt for the Mountaineers, as Valpo went scoreless for over four minutes and WVU pulled out to an 11-point lead. The Crusaders cut the lead to eight a couple times in the final few minutes, but would get no closer down the stretch.
Inside the Game
- Valpo placed four players in double figures on Saturday, led by 20 points from Smits on 9-of-12 shooting from the floor. Smits now has two 20+ point efforts in the last three games after hitting the 20-point mark just once in the first 68 games of his career.
- Smits also recorded a game-high five blocked shots to set a new career high in the category as well. The five blocks are the most in a single game by a Valpo player in the last three seasons.
- Fazekas was nearly perfect from the floor, going 5-of-6 overall and 3-of-4 from 3-point range in a 15-point showing.
- Junior Markus Golder (Portland, Ore./Clackamas [North Idaho] came off the bench to contribute 13 points and five rebounds.
- Junior Bakari Evelyn (Detroit, Mich./Hillcrest Academy/Southfield Christian [Nebraska]) rounded out the quartet in double figures with 10 points, four rebounds and four assists.
- Lavender continued his strong senior year in the Valpo uniform with something that hadn’t been accomplished by a Valpo player in over two decades. He tallied five points and six rebounds, but his day was highlighted by handing out 10 assists – the first double-digit assist outing by a Crusader since 2007.
- Even more impressively, however, was the fact Lavender dished out his 10 assists in 33 minutes while not committing a single turnover. He becomes the first Valpo player to tally at least 10 assists without a turnover since Bryce Drew finished with 11 assists and zero turnovers in a Jan. 8, 1997 win over Buffalo.
- Valpo shot 53.6% for the game and was 9-for-20 from 3-point range, outshooting West Virginia (49.2%, 7-for-17) in both categories.
- The Mountaineers held a 17-7 advantage over Valpo at the foul line and converted 14 offensive rebounds into 15 second-chance points.
- West Virginia needed career-high scoring efforts from both Ahmad (30 points, 12-of-15) and Konate (26 points, 9-of-15, 5-of-8 3-point) to come out with the victory.
Valpo (3-3) flies out to Las Vegas, where it will take on UNLV Wednesday night as part of the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge. Tipoff is slated for 9:30 p.m. CT, with the game broadcast live on AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain.