Trailing by 14 points with two minutes to play Saturday at Drake, the Valparaiso University men’s basketball team put together a furious push to try to erase the deficit, but while it cut the lead to four points twice in the final minute, Valpo was unable to complete the comeback, falling to the Bulldogs, 84-79.
How It Happened
- Valpo never led on Saturday, as Drake opened the game with a quick 8-2 spurt over the opening 3:15, forcing an early Valpo timeout as it turned the ball over four times in the first three minutes.
- Drake extended its lead into double figures for the first time at 21-11 with 10:18 to play in the first half.
- A 6-0 run, which included a pair of baskets from senior Deion Lavender (Alton, Ill./Marquette Catholic [UAB/Southern Illinois]), cut a 12-point Drake lead in half as Valpo moved to within 25-19 with 7:18 to play in the first half.
- Out of a timeout, the Bulldogs came back with an 11-2 run over a two-minute span to push their lead to 36-21with less than five minutes remaining in the period.
- Valpo responded with an 11-2 run of its own to close out the half. Five different Crusaders scored during the stretch to end the period, three of them coming on second-chance opportunities, including a putback by junior Derrik Smits (Zionsville, Ind./Zionsville) right before the buzzer to bring Valpo within 38-32 at halftime.
- Smits scored on Valpo’s first possession out of the locker room to cut the deficit to four points, but Drake scored on each of its next three trips to push the lead back into double figures at 45-34.
- The lead would remain in double figures for the Bulldogs for the vast majority of the next 16 minutes, save for a few occasions where Valpo moved within nine before Drake came right back and pushed it back to a double-digit advantage.
- Valpo took a timeout with 1:52 to play, trailing 74-60, and proceeded to put together a rapid late push to try to complete a comeback.
- Junior Ryan Fazekas (Chesterton, Ind./Marquette Catholic [Providence]) connected on a deep jumper inside the arc to get the run started.
- Pressure in the backcourt then led to consecutive steals for freshman Javon Freeman (Chicago, Ill./Whitney Young). Valpo split a pair of free throws following the first steal, while Freeman finished at the rim while being fouled for a 3-point play after the second, bringing the Crusaders within 74-66 with 1:27 remaining.
- Drake would go 4-for-4 from the foul line over the next seven seconds around a Valpo turnover to push its lead back to 12 points, but the run would continue. Fazekas connected on a 3-pointer, came up with a steal in the backcourt, and then finished a 3-point play to make it a 78-72 game with 58 seconds to play.
- After Drake split a pair of free throws, Freeman connected on a pull-up 3-pointer to bring Valpo within 79-75 with 49 seconds left. After the teams traded two points apiece, another steal for Freeman gave Valpo the chance to make it a one-possession game, but the Crusaders couldn’t convert and would get no closer the rest of the way.
Inside the Game
- The loss was Valpo’s third straight defeat, all of which have come by five points. Valpo has now dropped seven of the last eight games.
- Drake took both ends of the season series this year from Valpo after the Crusaders swept the Bulldogs last season.
- Four Valpo players scored 15 or more points, led by Lavender, who matched his season high with 16 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Lavender, who also grabbed six rebounds, scored in double figures for the third straight game after scoring 10 or more in just four of the season’s first 24 games.
- In his second game back from injury, Fazekas finished with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Smits was 6-of-8 from the field for 15 points as well and tied with Lavender and junior Jaume Sorolla (Tortosa, Spain/Sunrise Christian [Kan.] Academy) for team-high honors with six rebounds.
- Freeman added 15 points as well, going a perfect 6-of-6 from the foul line on the afternoon. The freshman extended its lead atop MVC individuals in steals, setting a new career high with five takeaways.
- Valpo continued its struggles shooting from deep in defeats, finishing just 3-of-12 from the behind the 3-point line while Drake went 7-for-20 from deep.
Valpo (13-14, 6-8 MVC) returns home for its next-to-last home game of the season, hosting Southern Illinois Wednesday night at 7 p.m. The game can be seen live on ESPN+.