Just when it appeared the Valparaiso men’s basketball team had finally started to click, the Crusaders delivered a forgetful performance Saturday afternoon.
The Crusaders scored just one field goal over the final 16 minutes of the first half, and Cleveland State had little trouble imposing its will in a 69-50 victory at the Wolsten Center.
The 19-point difference represents the most-lopsided Horizon League regular-season loss during Bryce Drew’s three years as head coach.
“Cleveland State was motivated for this game,” Drew said. “They had an answer for every time we started to get back. Their defense made things difficult for us.”
Lavonte Dority scored eight early points for the Crusaders and looked to be replicating his recent offensive efficiency when he knocked down a 3-pointer with 15:58 left in the first half. Dority’s shot would prove to be Valparaiso’s second-to-last field goal in the first half. Jordan Coleman hit a 3-pointer with 4:22 remaining, as the Vikings rattled off a 24-6 run in between field goals.
Dority scored just two more points after his early-game success and was relegated to the bench for much of the afternoon, as Drew searched his entire roster for a lineup combination that could match Cleveland State’s energy.
“Lavonte has been sensational for us during this three-game winning streak,” Drew said. “He started off the game great, but then had two or three guys around him at all times. What we needed was some other guys who could score for us. When we couldn’t get that going, they kept putting multiple guys on Lavonte. We need to get back where we have other players stepping up for us.”
Dority led the Crusaders (12-10, 4-3) with 10 points, but was limited to just 22 minutes. Alec Peters put a dent into his shooting slump by knocking down two 3-pointers and finished with 10 points. Clay Yeo added eight points and two rebounds off the bench.
“Our younger guys got a lot of good experience today,” Drew said. “We had four of our freshmen out there for long stretches and hopefully this experience against this type of team and this type of defense will help them as they progress.”
The most alarming element of Valparaiso’s loss was that the game started to slip away when Drew had his most-experienced players on the court. The Vikings scored eight straight points when Valparaiso’s four seniors were in the lineup. Drew didn’t play the group together the rest of the game.
“I thought we got off to a great start,” Drew said. “It just seemed like we lost our energy level and we lost our intensity. Some of that had to do with Cleveland State. We’ll go back and evaluate everything.”
Trey Lewis led the Vikings (13-9, 5-3) with 17 points, while Anton Grady added 13 points and 11 rebounds.