It was only fitting Wednesday night at the ARC that senior Deion Lavender (Alton, Ill./Marquette Catholic [UAB/Southern Illinois) would intercept Southern Illinois’ last-gasp pass to secure Valpo’s win, as the former Saluki made big shots down the stretch to help complement a strong team defensive effort in Valpo’s 55-52 victory over SIU.
How It Happened
- Valpo opened the game by scoring seven of the first nine points, including four early points from junior Jaume Sorolla (Tortosa, Spain/Sunrise Christian [Kan.] Academy.
- SIU answered with a 10-0 run in a span of just 1:47 to pull ahead 12-7 just over five minutes into the game.
- A layup from junior John Kiser (Noblesville, Ind./Noblesville) made it a one-possession game, where it would stay for the next 13-plus minutes.
- Junior Bakari Evelyn (Detroit, Mich./Hillcrest Academy/Southfield Christian [Nebraska]) connected on a 3-pointer with 3:26 to play in the half to tie the game at 22-22, but SIU scored six of the half’s final eight points to take a 28-24 lead into the break.
- Valpo turned up the defensive intensity to start the second half, forcing five Saluki turnovers in the first three minutes of the half. On the offensive end, four different Crusaders contributed to a half-opening 9-0 spurt, which was only halted by a banked-in 3-pointer from SIU’s Sean Lloyd, as Valpo regained the lead.
- Valpo pulled out to a 37-31 advantage with 13:28 to play following back-to-back baskets from junior Derrik Smits (Zionsville, Ind./Zionsville), but SIU would score the next six points to tie things up at 37 apiece. The Salukis eventually took a 42-40 lead on a fast-break dunk by Armon Fletcher with 9:24 to play.
- Out of a timeout, Valpo dominated the next couple minutes. Junior Ryan Fazekas (Chesterton, Ind./Marquette Catholic [Providence]) connected on a deep jumper to tie it at 42-all, and freshman Daniel Sackey (Winnipeg, Man./Thornlea) drilled a 3-pointer the next time down the court.
- Two possessions later, it was freshman Javon Freeman (Chicago, Ill./Whitney Young) completing a 3-point play to cap an 8-0 spurt and give Valpo a 48-42 lead with seven minutes remaining.
- SIU drew to within three points as the clock ticked towards four minutes to play, but Lavender took over at that point. First, it was grabbing a defensive rebound and taking it coast-to-coast for a fast-break layup.
- The next time down the court, Smits grabbed an offensive board to keep the possession alive, and Lavender took advantage of the second chance, pulling up for an elbow jumper.
- An SIU miss was ripped down by Lavender, and after Valpo ran the shot clock under 10 seconds, it was the senior who drove inside for another finish at the rim, putting the Crusaders on top 55-46 with 2:07 to play.
- SIU would rally at the free throw line, however, getting 10 free throw attempts in a span of 52 seconds while Valpo had the ball just twice – a missed shot and a turnover. SIU would go just 6-of-10 from the line in that stretch, cutting Valpo’s advantage to 55-52.
- Valpo missed a shot with 22 seconds remaining to give the ball back to the Salukis with a chance to tie, but a pair of SIU 3-point attempts were off the mark. Valpo had a chance to secure the game with a 1-and-1 with 2.7 seconds to go, but missed the front end, and SIU grabbed the rebound and called timeout with 2.4 seconds remaining. Having to go the length of the court, the Salukis opted for a deep inbounds pass into the frontcourt, and Lavender intercepted the pass and ran out the clock to secure the win.
Inside the Game
- With the win, Valpo snapped a four-game home losing streak. The victory was also the seventh for Valpo in MVC play this season, surpassing last year’s total of six with three games still remaining.
- Valpo now sits in a four-way tie for fifth place in the MVC standings at 7-8, one game out of fourth place. It owns all the tiebreakers at this point, as it is 5-0 this season against the three other teams in the tie.
- Valpo shot just 43.1% for the game and was just 3-of-11 from the 3-point line, but did connect at a 54.5% clip from the field in the second half.
- Meanwhile, the Crusaders limited SIU to 38.8% shooting for the game and a 4-of-15 mark from 3-point range.
- Valpo also forced 19 SIU turnovers, which resulted in 21 points on the offensive end.
- Taking on his former program, Lavender filled up the stat sheet Wednesday. The senior finished with 10 points, a team-best seven rebounds, a game-high three assists and a team-high three steals.
- Lavender has scored in double figures in four consecutive games after scoring 10-plus points just four times in the season’s first 24 games.
- Lavender made just his third start in MVC play for Valpo this season, while Sorolla moved into the starting lineup for just the second time this year.
- Sorolla finished with eight points and blocked four shots. The junior now owns 89 career rejections, eighth-most in program history and just one shy of Morris Smith for seventh position.
- Smits paced Valpo Wednesday with 11 points off the bench and added four rebounds as well.
- Freeman tallied a pair of steals in the winning effort. The freshman, who already owned Valpo’s freshman record for steals, moved into a tie for ninth position on Valpo’s single-season chart in the category, matching Bryce Drew’s senior season.
- Freeman is now just 10 steals shy of Lubos Barton’s record mark of 63 thefts, set in 2001-02.
- Valpo won Wednesday despite playing without junior Markus Golder, sidelined as he recovers from his ankle injury. Kiser returned to action on Wednesday after missing the game at Drake last Saturday with an ankle injury, contributing four points and four rebounds.
Valpo (14-14, 7-8 MVC) returns to the state of Iowa for the second time in a week, this time to face UNI Saturday night at 7 p.m. in Cedar Falls. The game can be seen live on ESPN3.