VALPARAISO — The Valparaiso men’s basketball team certainly won’t be sad to wake up in a different year this morning.
The Crusaders put a stamp on a year of turmoil Sunday afternoon with a 67-50 loss to Missouri State in their Missouri Valley Conference home opener, equaling their largest conference home loss since Jan. 2, 2013.
The last year saw academic suspensions surrounding Jubril Adekoya and Joe Burton, key injuries to Alec Peters and Tevonn Walker, the transfer of experienced point guard Lexus Williams and three games in the last month where Valparaiso has failed to eclipse 50 points. The third in that stretch coming Sunday when the Crusaders shot 34.8 percent from the field and 26.3 percent from the 3-point line.
“It’s not the way we wanted to come back home,” Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich said after the Crusaders played at the Athletics-Recreation Center for the first time in 32 days. “You got to hit shots and we just didn’t (Sunday). It’s hard, they’re not trying to miss shots. (Sunday), they just didn’t go in.”
The Crusaders (9-6, 0-2) played the preseason Valley favorites tough for the first seven minutes of the game and appeared to take a 14-11 lead when Tevonn Walker buried a 3-pointer. Walker’s shot was waved off and the senior was instead whistled for a push off, his second foul of the game. With Walker on the bench, the Bears (12-3, 2-0) responded with back-to-back 3-pointers and then later added a 13-0 run that gave Missouri State a 30-15 lead with 4:20 left in the first half. The Crusaders never got closer than 12 points the rest of the game.
“Our defensive numbers are actually pretty decent,” Lottich said. “We held them under 40 percent (39.0) and under 30 percent from 3-point (28.6). Other than (Jarrid) Rhodes, who hit four 3-pointers, we held guys in check. That’s what we try to preach every single day.”
While Valparaiso played well enough defensively, holding preseason Player of the Year Alize Johnson to just 11 points on 3-of-8 shooting, the Crusaders couldn’t generate the offense needed to hang with the Bears. Max Joseph led Valparaiso with 13 points while Walker added 11 points on 3-9 shooting. The Crusaders once again struggled from the perimeter, missing 14 of 19 3-pointers.
“We just get tentative when we don’t see the ball go in,” Joseph said. “We’re going to get better at that.”
Lottich made several changes to the lineup Sunday, including giving Merrillville product Mileek McMillan his first start. McMillan had six points and three rebounds in a career-high 30 minutes.
“Physically I thought he could match a player like (Johnson),” Lottich said. “Mileek has a lot of potential and a lot of ability. He has always competed and he’s very vocal on defense. I’m proud of him.”
Bakari Evelyn was noticeably slowed while playing a career-low 19 minutes. Lottich wouldn’t go into details after the game, but said it was “hard for him to play today.” The Crusaders, still without John Kiser (ankle) and Burton (academics) will return to the court on Wednesday at Bradley.
“We have to look forward and learn how to use this in the future,” Joseph said. “We have to keep the winning spirit. Obviously we want to win, we have to look back when we lose and bring that with us.”
Rhodes led the Bears with 15 points while Johnson added 11 points, 12 rebounds and four assists.