Game No. 1
Valparaiso 77, Murray State 74
The Crusaders started their journey toward another championship banner right after they finished celebrating their last title. LaVonte Dority hit a runner with 8.8 seconds left to hold off a pesky Murray State squad 77-74. Jordan Coleman (16 points, eight rebounds) and Vashil Fernandez (14 points, seven rebounds) had career nights for the Crusaders in front of a rowdy Athletics-Recreation Center crowd.
Game Ball -- As much as Murray State kept knocking the Crusaders never let the Racers get both feet through the door in the second half. Sure, there were alarming field goal droughts over the course of the evening, but for every bad offensive possession, the Crusaders put together several strong defensive possessions. Coach Bryce Drew didn't hesitate leaning on his freshmen in the late stages of the game, calling on key minutes from Alec Peters, Clay Yeo and Lexus Williams.
A secondary Game Ball needs to go to Vashil Fernandez. The junior center looked like a completely different player in the first half on Friday night as he made his first five shots (several of them dunks) and displayed vastly improved footwork. The Jamaican big man added seven rebounds and just one turnover in a career-high 24 minutes.
Air Ball -- Until the last 10 seconds of the game LaVonte Dority just didn't have it on Friday night. The senior struggled with his shot (3-of-13) and had just one assist to five turnovers. Dority slid over to the 2-guard when Lexus Williams came into the game and Dority just failed to get on track, even missing four free throws. All that said, the senior blocked everything out when the team needed him the most and he delivered a play in winning time. I wouldn't expect to see Dority end up in the Air Ball section all that often this season.
Quotable -- "Both teams are trying to find themselves. Both teams had a lot of players that left from last season and both teams are mixing in a lot of new players. It was a very exhausting, emotional game." -- Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew
Freshmen Watch -- Valparaiso's four freshmen that saw the floor accounted for 40 percent of the overall minutes on Friday night with Alec Peters (30 min.) leading the way. Peters had 12 points and eight rebounds while Lexus Williams added eight points in 21 minutes. Clay Yeo's stat line didn't look great, but the freshmen turned heads throughout the evening with his athleticism.
Up Next -- The Crusaders (1-0) return home on Sunday afternoon to take on North Park at 1:35. The Vikings are a NCAA Division III squad and play in the College Conference of Illinois Wisconsin. Valparaiso director of athletics Mark LaBarbera graduated from North Park.