VALPARAISO — Playing for the first time in nearly five years, Loyola struck the first blow in the revived rivalry with Valparaiso on Sunday afternoon.
The Ramblers used a 13-1 run early in the second half to break open a tight contest with the Crusaders and then coast to a 70-54 victory at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
Clayton Custer knocked down two 3-pointers during the scoring run and the junior guard finished with a team-high 18 points, five assists and four steals.
“We’ve been consistently bad in the second half,” Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich said. “It’s something we’ve talked about as a coaching staff. They’re very good, very well coached; I didn’t think they made many adjustments (at halftime). We looked very undisciplined in the second half.”
The Ramblers (16-4, 6-2 MVC) led 27-17 late in the first half before Tevonn Walker threw down a dunk to jump-start a 10-0 run that carried over into the second half. Walker scored four points and Derrik Smits scored six of his career-high 14 points during the run. Smits played a career-best 31 minutes and added six rebounds and two blocks.
“Early on I was getting the ball in the right spots,” Smits said. “I stayed aggressive. Like I’ve been saying all year, I have to stay aggressive, especially off the start. My teammates set me up pretty well and I had open looks.”
Loyola scored four quick points to answer Valparaiso’s scoring run, but Walker buried a 3-pointer and Bakari Evelyn scored on a jumper to give the Crusaders a 32-31 lead with 16:50 remaining. Marques Townes scored on a second-chance putback and Custer hit his first 3-pointer moments later to start Loyola’s scoring run.
“We gave up a run, we gave up transition 3s,” Evelyn said. “We just didn’t rebound from it.”
Evelyn scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half as Valparaiso did its level best to claw back in the game. Evelyn scored four straight points to cut the deficit to 52-45 with 7:15 remaining, but Custer answered with another basket and Cameron Krutwig scored at the rim. The Crusaders never got closer than nine points the remainder of the game.
“We didn’t get back in transition; we gave them a lot of easy shots,” Lottich said. “We have to stay committed to the process. They looked like a veteran group. No excuses, we have to get better.”
Walker had 14 points and four rebounds. The senior, along with Evelyn and Smits were the only Valparaiso players with more than three points. Micah Bradford had a layup and a free throw while Mileek McMillan and Max Joseph each had one field goal to round out Valparaiso’s scoring. The Crusaders (11-10, 2-6) had 13 turnovers on Sunday afternoon and have had double digit turnovers in every game this season.
“We have to get better all over,” Evelyn said. “They outrebounded us, had more assists, less turnovers. We need to get better.”