MILWAUKEE | As yet another Valparaiso big exited the game with five fouls, Lavonte Dority huddled his teammates and gave an animated speech.
Then the senior went to work.
Dority scored 13 of his team-high 19 points in the second half as the Crusaders grabbed a key Horizon League victory with a 77-62 win Saturday night.
The win gives the Crusaders (16-11, 8-4) a two-game lead over the rest of the conference for third place and leaves Valparaiso just out of second place and the all-important double bye in next month’s conference tournament.
“We were going through something, but we had to continue to play the game,” Dority said. “We didn’t have any bigs out there, but we still had eight minutes to go. Whatever I had to do, whatever we had to do, we had to make it happen. I’m proud of my guys for getting this win.”
Bobby Capobianco picked up his fifth foul with just over nine minutes remaining in the game and joined fellow big men Vashil Fernandez and Moussa Gueye on the bench. Jubril Adekoya took over at center, just the second time this season the freshman has had to play the five.
“Their bigs were very aggressive, and fouls were our first worry,” Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew said.
Jordan Coleman notched his first career double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds as the senior bounced back from playing only six minutes against Oakland last week. Coleman’s key play came with just under 10 minutes left when he grabbed an offensive rebound off a missed Dority free throw and capped an 8-0 run with an uncontested layup.
“After the Oakland and Detroit games, the coaches really challenged me to come in and bring the most effort,” Coleman said. “This was a big victory. Milwaukee was creeping up, and we needed this one.”
Kyle Kelm led the Panthers (16-10, 6-6) with a game-high 24 points, but Milwaukee was just 3-of-29 from the 3-point line. Rob Jeter’s squad played without leading scorer Jordan Aaron as the senior guard was suspended for violation of team rules earlier in the day. Jeter gave no indication as to Aaron’s infraction or how long he’d be suspended.
“We learned a real valuable lesson tonight about being disciplined,” Jeter said. “I was wishing that the color of the jerseys would be switched. Not that I don’t love my guys, but every mistake we made, Valpo capitalized. Every right play, they made.”
Valparaiso’s victory took on added importance after Green Bay knocked off Cleveland State earlier in the day. If the Crusaders can win out – starting with a road contest at Green Bay on Thursday – they’ll be assured of at least second place in the conference and a double bye.