The comeback kids were at it again on Tuesday night at the Vadalabene Center in Edwardsville, Ill.
Another resilient effort resulted in a road triumph as the Valparaiso University men’s basketball team transformed a double-figure first-half deficit into a double-figure victory, topping host SIUE 89-76. Sophomore Javon Freeman-Liberty (Chicago, Ill. / Whitney Young) has turned heads every time he’s taken the court this season, but Tuesday marked his best night yet with a double-double of 30 points and 13 rebounds.
How It Happened
- Valpo scored the first six points of the game, but the Cougars quickly battled back. They turned an 11-7 Valpo lead into a 21-11 edge of their own by virtue of a 14-0 run from the 16:14 mark to the 13:00 minute of the first half.
- The Brown & Gold responded with eight straight points, capped by a Mileek McMillan (Merrillville, Ind. / Merrillville) trey to make it 21-19 SIUE with 11:08 to go in the first half.
- The SIUE lead was 33-25 with 7:34 left in the first half, but a 3-pointer by Donovan Clay (Alton, Ill. / Alton) with 7:15 to play in the half was followed by a Freeman-Liberty scoring burst to help Valpo trim the margin.
- A strong finish to the half ended with Sigurd Lorange (Trondheim, Norway / Metis Videregaende Skole) burying a triple at the buzzer to send Valpo into the break down just two at 46-44. That marked the freshman’s first collegiate basket.
- McMillan’s layup with 17:37 left in the second half put Valpo ahead 48-46, its first lead since 11-9 in the first five minutes of the game.
- Valpo went on to score the first nine points of the second half, a 12-0 run dating back to the end of the first half. That put the team ahead 53-46 with 16:37 to play.
- The Brown & Gold went on another 11-point run, building up a 15-point lead with 9:16 to play. Freeman-Liberty continued to dominate, while Nick Robinson (Chicago, Ill. / Kenwood [Saint Joseph’s]) and John Kiser (Noblesville, Ind. / Noblesville) also made big plays on both ends of the court.
- The quality free-throw shooting of Robinson helped Valpo seal the victory in the final minutes. He made six free throws down the stretch and had eight points in the last four minutes of the game.
Inside the Game
- Freeman-Liberty had his second career double-double and first since Jan. 29 of last season, when he had 12 points and 15 boards vs. Missouri State. His 13 rebounds on Tuesday marked his second most behind the aforementioned game against the Bears.
- The Valpo sophomore’s 30 points eclipsed his previous personal best of 27, which was set on Feb. 5, 2019 against Illinois State. He became the first Valpo player with a 30-point output since Bakari Evelyn on Nov. 25, 2017 vs. UNCW. Entering Tuesday’s action, there were only 23 instances of a player posting a 30-point game in the nation this season. Only one player in The Valley entered Tuesday with a 30-point game to his credit (Keandre Cook of Missouri State, 31 vs. Alabama State).
- Robinson posted a career-high 19 points while grabbing eight rebounds and going a perfect 8-of-8 at the foul stripe. McMillan also finished in double figures with a career-high 13 points on an efficient 5-of-8 from the field.
- Kiser had his third straight game with seven rebounds or more, squeezing seven caroms in the victory. He also handed out five assists, second only to six by point guard Daniel Sackey (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada / Thornlea). Kiser’s five helpers surpassed his previous career high of four set in this year’s season opener.
- Valpo’s largest deficit was 10 with 13 minutes remaining in the opening half. By the midway point in the second half, the Brown & Gold had turned it into a 15-point lead. Valpo has trailed by double figures in the first half in every game this season and have come back to win twice and pull within two in the other. This marked the first time Valpo has come from double figures down to win by double figures since Feb. 17, 2018, a 77-64 win over Bradley.
- Clay made his first career start in his return to his hometown area. Edwardsville is a short drive away from Alton, Ill., and Valpo practiced at his alma mater on Monday.
Thoughts from Head Coach Matt Lottich
“The message at halftime was that this wasn’t who we are, and we did a good job establishing ourselves in the second half. We’re doing a good job of closing games well defensively, but we’ve got to get back to the drawing board on how to start games well defensively. We’ve found ways to win two out of three so far. This is a hard game to play at the end of a five-day trip, so I’m pleased with the victory.”
“They were pressuring Javon a little bit, and he was able to get by his defender and did a really good job finishing. Teams have to crowd Javon this year because he can shoot. Last year, teams tried to lay off him a little bit. He’s playing very well right now. The other thing that sometimes goes unnoticed is how well our guys have been working together. Their movement and screening have helped him get the opportunities he’s gotten. It is great when you have a guy who can throw in 30, but it is a team effort always.”
“With Ryan Fazekas out, there was some conversation about our starting lineup. Donovan Clay and John Kiser have both played well. I like Donovan’s enthusiasm in the lineup and I like Kiser’s veteran presence off the bench. I talked to John about it, and he said, ‘Coach, I’m here for the team.’ I thought Donovan did really well embracing the opportunity.”
“Our zone helped; it forced them to be a little bit tentative on the offensive end. They’re a good zone defensive team, and I thought we did a good job attacking that tonight.”
Valpo (2-1) will return home to host North Dakota on Sunday afternoon in a game that tips off at 1:30 p.m. at the Athletics-Recreation Center. It is slated to air on ESPN3 with links to live video, audio and stats available on ValpoAthletics.com.