VALPARAISO | As late as Wednesday afternoon the sky was falling around the Valparaiso men’s basketball program.
The Crusaders had lost four of their last five games and suffered a humiliating defeat to Wright State on national television. Fast forward 72 hours and all was right in the Athletics-Recreation Center on Saturday afternoon with Lavonte Dority being the biggest reason for the about-face.
The senior guard shook off a nagging back injury and managed to put the Crusaders on his back during a 27-point performance that led Valparaiso to a 75-62 win over upstart Milwaukee.
“I was just playing within the offense,” Dority said. “My teammates did a good job of finding me when I was open.”
With wins over Detroit on Wednesday and the Panthers on Saturday, the Crusaders are suddenly on a two-game Horizon League winning streak and seemingly clicking as a unit.
Trailing 14-5 in the early stages of the game, Dority and Keith Carter combined for a 10-3 run to get the Crusaders back in the game. The teams traded baskets for several minutes before Carter made an impressive pass to Moussa Gueye for the game-tying dunk and then drilled a 3-pointer to give the Crusaders a 25-22 lead that they would never relinquish.
Carter finished with 10 points, five assists and three rebounds in 18 minutes after the sophomore guard was limited to just eight first-half minutes against Detroit on Wednesday night.
“It’s hard coming in off the bench, but I have to get my team going the best way that I can,” Carter said.
While Carter dazzled with some of his passes and Gueye earned his stripes with hard-nosed rebounding, it was Dority that stole the show at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
“I’d sure like to know what Bryce (Drew) said to Lavonte during that second timeout because he really turned into a different player,” Milwaukee coach Rob Jeter said. “I want to know what he said because I want to use it with my guys.”
Jordan Coleman returned to the lineup after missing the Detroit game with a minor concussion. The senior shined in the second half, especially with NBA-style continuation move that resulted in three points when the Panthers (13-7, 3-3) were bearing down on the Crusaders. Coleman finished with eight points in 20 minutes while Gueye added 12 rebounds and two blocks off the bench.
Dority and Peters led the Crusaders (11-9, 3-2) in minutes as usual, but Drew displayed a balanced rotation among the remaining seven players as they played between 17-and-22 minutes.
“I thought our guys played extremely well today,” Drew said. “They were counting on each other. This was a very intense game, a high intensity game from the beginning. Milwaukee is an excellent team and we needed to play at a high level for 40 minutes. I was proud of our effort tonight.”
Matt Tiby led the Panthers with 22 points and eight rebounds while Jordan Aaron added 13 points. The Crusaders outrebounded Milwaukee 47-30 and outscored the reserves 25-3.
“Valpo is doing the same things it’s done, just with different guys,” Jeter said. “I like the way they all play together.”