VALPARAISO — Matt Lottich was emotionally spent by the time he made his way to the postgame news conference following Tuesday night’s 68-63 loss to Northern Iowa at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
Not only did the loss virtually guarantee that the Crusaders the No. 10 seed in the upcoming Missouri Valley Conference tournament, Arch Madness, but Lottich then had to say goodbye to seniors Tevonn Walker and Max Joseph in their final home game in their respective careers.
“This was a tough night,” Lottich said. “It was an emotional day because of what Max and Tevonn meant to the program. Then, we just couldn’t get in a rhythm tonight.”
The Crusaders battled foul trouble throughout the evening as they went nearly the first seven minutes of the game without a basket and then fell behind by double digits midway through the first half. Valparaiso rallied to cut the deficit down to two points, but could never get over the hump as it trailed for the final 32:08 of the game.
“I don’t think we had the energy,” Valparaiso sophomore Markus Golder said. “I don’t think we had the chip on our shoulder that we had in the Bradley game.”
Derrik Smits was whistled for a foul 30 seconds into the game and Lottich put in Jaume Sorolla who didn’t fare much better. Smits and Sorolla were limited to a combined 27 minutes and scored one point while grabbing four rebounds. Sorolla fouled out in 15 minutes and Smits played nearly half his minutes with four fouls.
“The fouls on our bigs really put us in a predicament,” Lottich said. “The message I kept telling my team is you can’t control the refs in any capacity; you have to continue to play. For the most part we did that. Every time it seemed (UNI) needed a bucket, they got one, or they got fouled.”
Bakari Evelyn scored 13 of his team-high 19 points in the first half as the Crusaders (14-16, 5-12) trailed 38-34 at halftime. The Crusaders saw the deficit range from three to eight points in the second half and Valparaiso looked to have momentum when Tevonn Walker cut Northern Iowa’s lead to 59-56 with 2:01 remaining. The Crusaders forced a miss on the other end, but Evelyn couldn’t finish at the basket while drawing heavy contact that went unnoticed. Spencer Haldeman hit a 3-pointer on the other end for the Panthers, and while Walker answered with a triple of his own with 36.1 seconds remaining, the Crusaders never got a chance to get closer as Northern Iowa hit six free throws in the final 25 seconds to secure the victory.”
“We can sit here and hold our heads down or we can get better,” Lottich said. “We have a lot that we can continue to get better on.”
Valparaiso will wrap up its regular season on Saturday afternoon at Drake as the Crusaders continue the search for their first conference road win of the season. While the Crusaders aren’t officially locked in to the No. 10 seed, they only have the slimmest of hope to avoid the lowest seed in Arch Madness. Valparaiso needs to beat Drake on Saturday while needing Indiana State to lose its two remaining games and Northern Iowa to beat Missouri State on Saturday. Even with that, the Crusaders would need to finish with a strong RPI than the Sycamores and the two teams are close entering the final days of the regular season.
Walker finished with 13 points and four rebounds in 36 minutes while Joseph scored five points and grabbed four rebounds in his final game at the ARC.