CHAMPAIGN | Valparaiso took an early uppercut from Illinois but stayed in the fight until the bitter end.
The Crusaders overcame an early double-digit deficit to get within two points with less than seven minutes to go, but the Illini closed the game strong to pull out a 64-52 victory at the State Farm Center on Wednesday night.
Illinois finished the game on a 15-5 run as the Crusaders went more than six minutes without a field goal after cutting the deficit to 49-47 with 6:43 remaining.
“The only way you get experience is to play,” Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew said. “We’ll have a lot of good film to watch from this game.”
The Illini opened the game with a 15-5 run, but Valparaiso’s second unit showed poise and utilized an 11-3 run to get back in the game. As many times as Illinois pulled ahead, Valparaiso was always right there with an answer until the final stages of the game.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s Big Ten or whatever team we’re playing,” Valpo freshman Alec Peters said. “It’s a basketball game, and we have to go out and compete.”
Peters played 30 minutes in his first road game and faced constant scrutiny from the Orange Krush, the Illinois student cheering section. The Peoria native grew up about an hour from the Illinois campus.
“(The experience) would’ve been a lot better if we would’ve won,” Peters said. “It was nice knowing I had family in the stands and friends in the Orange Krush, but we needed to come out of here with a win.”
The Crusaders displayed their grit and fight even late in the game when Illinois was pulling away with the victory. Following a non-call on a play where LaVonte Dority drove the lane and ended up on the floor, Drew walked onto the court and was whistled for a technical foul. It was evident that his players appreciated the gesture.
“If he’s going to go to war for us, then we’re going to go to war for him,” senior Jordan Coleman said.
Coleman led the Crusaders (2-1) with 15 points and eight rebounds. Dority added 12 points while playing on a sprained ankle that he suffered in the first half.
Rayvonte Rice led four Illinois players in double figures with 18 points and eight rebounds.