The Valparaiso University men’s basketball team accomplished a feat that the program hadn’t reached in the lifetime of any current player or coach on Saturday night at the Ford Center – winning a road game against the Evansville Purple Aces.
A city that’s been unkind to the Brown & Gold down through the years played host to an 81-79 overtime victory for Valpo, snapping the team’s 22-game skid at Evansville. Javon Freeman-Liberty (Chicago, Ill. / Whitney Young) finished with 25 points after a second-half surge, helping his team come from eight points down with just 3:54 remaining. The victory didn’t come easy against a talented team whose resume includes a glowing victory at No. 1 Kentucky earlier in the season.
How It Happened
- Evansville scored the first five points, but Valpo went on a 19-4 spurt to open up a 10-point lead with 13:04 remaining in the opening half. It was a layup by Ben Krikke (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada / Jasper Place) that widened the margin to double figures, the second nifty hoop of the evening for the rookie from Edmonton.
- Junior Zion Morgan (Chicago, Ill. / Kenwood [Wabash Valley/UNLV] chipped in his first points of the evening with 8:05 to go in the half, upping the edge back to eight at 24-16. That marked the final Valpo points before a 10-0 run by the Purple Aces vaulted the hosts ahead. Artur Labinowicz drained a 3-pointer with 5:08 remaining in the half to put the Aces (9-6, 0-2) on top for the first time since the game’s opening minutes.
- Eron Gordon (Indianapolis, Ind. / Cathedral [Seton Hall]) answered with a go-ahead triple of his own, then Krikke scored four points over the final 1:41 of the half to help Valpo to a 33-31 lead going into the final possession of the period. Freeman-Liberty had just three points up until that juncture, but he ended the half with a highlight, splashing in a topside 3-pointer in waning seconds. That upped the lead to five at 36-31.
- Mileek McMillan (Merrillville, Ind. / Merrillville) converted his first of three 3-pointers a minute into the second half, then Donovan Clay (Alton, Ill. / Alton) got in on the act from long range to extend the lead to seven. McMillan’s second 3 made it 48-39 with 16:39 remaining, and Valpo pushed the lead back to double figures by the 14:28 mark.
- An 8-0 run took a bite out of a 10-point edge as Evansville pulled to within two at 54-52 following a pair of free-throw makes by K.J. Riley at the 11:34 mark.
- The third McMillan 3 was another critical shot as it boosted a one-point lead to four at 59-55 with 8:21 to go. But Valpo wouldn’t score again for the next 3:24 as Evansville orchestrated another 10-0 run to go up 65-59 with under five minutes remaining, a lead that ballooned to eight by the 3:54 mark.
- Freeman-Liberty scored eight points in the next three minutes to will his team back to a 70-all deadlock with 1:04 to play. Valpo ended up with the last look in the final seconds of regulation, but it remained tied.
- A fastbreak layup by Daniel Sackey (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada / Thornlea) started the scoring in the overtime period and Valpo would hold the lead for the game’s duration. Clay’s transition dunk to make it 80-76 with three seconds on the clock helped seal the deal.
Inside the Game
- Freeman-Liberty scored 19 of his 25 points after halftime. This was the ninth time in 15 games this season that he eclipsed 20 points, his 15th straight double-figure output and the fourth time he’s accrued 25 points or more.
- Four Valpo players scored in double figures, as Freeman-Liberty was joined by Gordon (11), Krikke (10) and Clay (10). Clay hit double figures for the eighth time this year, while Gordon did so for the fifth time and Krikke had his third double-figure output.
- All five of Gordon’s double-figure outputs have come in the last eight games. Krikke’s double-figure effort was his first since scoring 18 on Nov. 27 vs. Trinity Christian, while Clay has hit double figures in seven of his last eight games.
- The well-documented skid of 22 consecutive defeats at Evansville went all the way back to Feb. 1, 1969, when Gene Bartow’s team prevailed 101-95. Valpo improved to 18-70 all-time against Evansville and 6-41 in the River City. It also ended a five-game overall losing streak in head-to-head meetings and marked Valpo’s first victory over the Aces since joining the Missouri Valley Conference.
- This marked Valpo’s second overtime game of the year and first victory after previously falling 81-77 to Cincinnati in the U.S. Virgin Islands. A streak of three straight overtime losses that dated back to Nov. 21, 2018, a 75-70 home win over SIUE, was also snapped on Saturday.
- Valpo tipped off a new decade with a win for the first time since starting the 1970s by beating Brown. Valpo had lost its first contest of the 1980s (at Milwaukee), 1990s (at Notre Dame), 2000s (at UMKC) and 2010s (at Green Bay).
- Freeman-Liberty will hold the distinction of being the leading scorer in the first Valpo game of the 2020s. Brandon Wood (2010s), Milo Stovall (2000s) and Mike Jones (1990s) are other recent players who have led Valpo in scoring in the opening game of a decade.
- Valpo has played three straight games decided by four points or fewer and seven of the team’s 15 contests have been decided by six points or fewer.
- Valpo’s free-throw shooting was flawless as the team went 11-of-12 for 91.7 percent with the one miss coming intentionally in the final second of the game. In addition, the Brown & Gold tied a season high with a dozen made 3-pointers, a number previously reached on Dec. 18 at High Point.
- Nick Robinson (Chicago, Ill. / Kenwood [Saint Joseph’s]) matched a career high with seven assists for the second straight game, putting together a balanced P-R-A stat line of 7-6-7. Clay topped the squad in rebounds with seven, the second time this season and first against a Division-I team he served as the team’s top rebounder.
Valpo (8-7, 1-1) will make its way to Carbondale on Saturday in advance of Tuesday’s date with the Southern Illinois Salukis. The contest tips off at 7 p.m. and will be carried on ESPN+.