Freshman Javon Freeman (Chicago, Ill./Whitney Young) scored a game-high 17 points and the Valparaiso University men’s basketball team moved into sole possession of first place in the Missouri Valley Conference, leading nearly start to finish Tuesday night in a 61-50 win over Bradley at the ARC.
How It Happened
- The game went back and forth in the early stages, but it was Valpo maintaining the lead for most of the first few minutes, as Bradley led just twice for a combined 29 seconds.
- Valpo led 13-12 seven minutes into the game, but much as it did last time out at Missouri State, put together a huge run late in the first half. The Brown and Gold outscored the Braves 18-2 over the next nine minutes to push the advantage to 31-14.
- Perhaps the most impressive thing about the run was the balance, as six different Valpo players scored during the stretch and nobody scored more than four points.
- An inside basket from Ari Boya with 9:17 to play in the first half would prove to be Bradley’s lone basket in the final 13 minutes of the half. The Braves did get four free throws in the final few minutes to cut the Valpo edge to 31-18 at the intermission.
- Freeman knocked down a 3-pointer on Valpo’s first possession of the second half, pushing the lead to 16 after picking up a steal on the defensive end to open the period.
- Beyond that play, however, the first 15 minutes of the second half would be played within a six-point spread, as Valpo’s lead fluctuated between 10 and 15 points. Perhaps the highlight of that span was junior Jaume Sorolla (Tortosa, Spain/Sunrise Christian [Kan.] Academy) launching a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock with 13:14 to play and knocking it down for his first career triple.
- Junior Bakari Evelyn (Detroit, Mich./Hillcrest Academy/Southfield Christian [Nebraska]) connected on a 3-pointer with 9:13 to play to make it a 48-33 Valpo lead, but Bradley would go on a 12-2 run over the next six-plus minutes to pull within 50-45 with less than three minutes to play.
- Back-to-back possessions would all but secure Valpo’s win, however. Senior Deion Lavender (Alton, Ill./Marquette Catholic [UAB/Southern Illinois]) hit Evelyn for a 3-pointer to send the lead back to eight points, and then after Valpo forced a miss on the defensive end, Evelyn fed Freeman on the baseline cut for a dunk as the lead returned to double figures.
- Valpo would hit all four free throws on its first two one-and-one trips to the line in the final minute, and then put the game away with the home run ball from Lavender to Freeman for the slam against Bradley’s full-court press.
Inside the Game
- Valpo is 3-0 in conference play for just the third time this century. The 2015-16 and 2002-03 Valpo squads both eventually started league play 6-0 on their way to the Horizon League and the Mid-Continent Conference regular season title, respectively.
- Sitting at 3-0 in MVC play, Valpo finds itself alone atop the conference standings, as fellow unbeatens Loyola and Southern Illinois suffered road losses at Evansville and Drake, respectively.
- The hallmark of this year’s Valpo squad has been its balance, and while Freeman led the way on Tuesday, the balance was there as well, as six players finished with at least six points in the winning effort.
- Freeman led all players with his 17 points, going 7-of-10 from the floor as he had his top scoring night against a Division I opponent this season. Among the conference leaders in steals, Freeman came up with three steals on Tuesday as well.
- Freeman was the only Valpo player in double figures, but just shy of the mark was junior Markus Golder (Portland, Ore./Clackamas [North Idaho]), who finished with nine points and matched his season high with eight rebounds.
- Lavender came off the bench with eight points, five rebounds and five assists against just one turnover. It is the sixth time through 16 games this year the graduate transfer has tallied at least five points, rebounds and assists in a game.
- While it was his classmate who led the way in the scoring column, fellow backcourt rookie Daniel Sackey (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada/Thornlea) headed the distribution, finishing with a game-high six assists against just two turnovers. Since moving to the starting lineup, Sackey has averaged four assists per game.
- Valpo’s defense again rose to the challenge on Tuesday, limiting the Braves to 30.9% shooting for the game. The 50 points Bradley scored was the fewest by a Valpo opponent in a conference game since the Brown and Gold defeated Cleveland State by a 66-43 final at Quicken Loans Arena on Feb. 16, 2016.
- Valpo’s win on Tuesday came mostly without the services of leading scorer Ryan Fazekas, who exited the game with injury just seven minutes in.
Valpo (10-6, 3-0 MVC) puts its perfect conference record on the line Saturday afternoon at Southern Illinois. The 3 p.m. tipoff can be seen live on the MVC TV Network, including in the Chicagoland area on NBC Sports Chicago.