The Valparaiso University men’s basketball team faced a 14-point deficit in the first half on Saturday night at Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis before battling to within two with 5:19 to play in the game. However, the defending Atlantic 10 champion Billikens finished strong, topping the Brown & Gold 81-70 by scoring 11 of the game’s final 13 points. Sophomore Daniel Sackey (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada / Thornlea) turned in a career-high 22 points, 15 of which came before halftime.
How It Happened
- The two teams traded blows early as neither side led by more than three for the first 11 minutes. Valpo made three 3s in the first 2:15 with Ryan Fazekas (Chesterton, Ind. / Marquette [Providence]), Nick Robinson (Chicago, Ill. / Kenwood [Saint Joseph’s]) and Sackey all connecting.
- A layup by Javon Freeman-Liberty (Chicago, Ill. / Whitney Young) put his team in front at the 10-minute mark of the opening half. That was followed by a significant SLU run, as the Billikens scored the next 13 points to turn a 23-21 deficit into a 34-23 lead.
- The margin faced by Valpo reached as high as 14 with two minutes to go in the half and stood at 11 through 20 minutes with Saint Louis up 44-33. Sackey didn’t miss a shot in the first half with 15 points on 5-of-5 shooting including a pair of 3s, serving as a Valpo bright spot. The team was hampered by foul trouble including Freeman-Liberty sitting the final six minutes of the half after picking up his third.
- Another Sackey triple had Valpo within seven at 48-41 with 15:36 to play, but the Billikens built the edge back to 13 at 56-43 by the 13:05 mark.
- After facing an 11-point disparity with 11:04 remaining, a 9-0 Valpo run transformed the game’s complexion. Freeman-Liberty scored five of those eight points.
- Freeman-Liberty continued to take over the game by knocking down shot after shot, pulling Valpo within one at 66-65, then back within two on two additional occasions. The Valpo sophomore scored 14 points in less than five minutes. SLU led 61-52 with 9:42 remaining, and by the 5:19 mark the score was 70-68 with Freeman-Liberty having scored 14 of Valpo’s 16 points in that span.
- The Brown & Gold had a chance to tie the game at the free-throw line with 3:52 to go, but couldn’t convert. The team misfired on its final six attempts at the charity stripe. That opened the door for the Billikens to compile an 8-0 run that built the lead back to double figures with 1:28 to go. After Valpo got within 70-68 with 5:19 remaining, SLU outscored Valpo 11-2 the rest of the way.
Inside the Game
- Sackey’s 22-point showing obliterated his previous career best of 13, which had been reached last season against both Concordia Chicago and Drake. His seven made field goals bested his previous high of four, while he also went 3-for-3 from beyond the arc after previously making no more than one 3 in any one game. Sackey’s five made free throws tied a career high, and he also dished out a team-high four assists. The performance came on an efficient 7-of-9 shooting.
- Freeman-Liberty accrued exactly 19 points for the second straight game while also grabbing four caroms and handing out a pair of assists. John Kiser (Noblesville, Ind. / Noblesville) chipped in nine points off the bench while pacing the team in rebounds with eight for the second straight game.
- Valpo hit eight 3s in the game, shooting at a 47.1 percent clip from distance. The team created 35 free throw attempts, but went 57.1 percent at the stripe.
- Valpo limited SLU’s Hasahn French to seven points on 3-of-10 shooting after he scored 20 in the season opener, but Jordan Goodwin (22) and Demarius Jacobs (20) picked up the scoring slack for the hosts. Goodwin also corralled nine rebounds.
Valpo (1-1) will remain in the St. Louis area for a Tuesday night matchup with SIU Edwardsville in Edwardsville, Ill. That contest tips off at 7 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN+ with the hometown radio call available on 95.1 FM Valparaiso WVUR. Links to live video, audio and stats are up on ValpoAthletics.com.