VALPARAISO | The script looked awfully familiar for the Valparaiso men’s basketball team Thursday night.
The Crusaders put forth a frustrating, turnover-ridden first half, only to bounce back and dominate the second half for a convincing 87-72 win over Illinois-Chicago in the Horizon League opener for both teams.
Valparaiso committed nine turnovers before the break and then went nearly 15 minutes without a miscue to begin the second half. The Crusaders outscored UIC 18-0 in points off turnovers after halftime.
“I thought we came out with a lot of energy in the second half,” Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew said. “We played hard in the first half, but we just didn’t finish off plays. They were able to score late into the shot clock. Our guys stayed focused at halftime and brought the energy in the second half.”
Lexus Williams sparked the Crusaders (9-7, 1-0) by scoring Valparaiso’s first eight points of the second half, helping VU recover from a 40-32 deficit. The freshman knocked down two 3-pointers and almost had a third that went halfway down before rimming out.
“That third one might’ve been a heat check,” Williams said. “Coach Drew told me to be aggressive and the shots were falling.”
Keith Carter scored 13 of his career-high 19 points in the second half and the sophomore guard impressed the crowd in his home debut. The St. Louis transfer came off the bench for the first time in four games with the Crusaders and immediately made his presence felt with a steal that led to a layup on his first possession.
“It was a great feeling to be out there with my brothers and getting the win in front of the home crowd,” he said. “I just try to bring energy on defense to get us going.”
Lavonte Dority had 14 points and six assists while Jordan Coleman added 13 points.
Marc Brown led the Flames (5-10, 0-1) with 19 points and six rebounds while Purdue transfer Kelsey Barlow had 13 points, four assists and three steals.
Valparaiso High product Hayden Humes had 12 points in his hometown return, but his night ended prematurely after he was called for a flagrant-2 foul. Humes was whistled for the foul and ejected after a takedown of Dority as the Valparaiso senior drove to the basket.
UIC coach Howard Moore declined speaking to reporters following the game and did not make Barlow or Humes available to the press.
The Crusaders have a quick turnaround before their next conference game as they’ll travel to Oakland on Saturday for the first Horizon League matchup with their former Mid-Con rivals.
“We’ll celebrate this one tonight, but then we need to forget it and move on to Oakland,” Coleman said. “We told (the younger guys) that (conference play) was going to be like this every night.”