VALPARAISO | Keith Carter was mere inches away from sealing a Valparaiso victory with steal Friday night.
Carter leaped in the air and just missed stealing an inbounds pass with 5.7 seconds remaining, leaving Detroit’s Juwan Howard Jr. enough space to drill a game-winning 3-pointer to give the Titans a 59-57 victory at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
Moussa Gueye fumbled the ball on Valparaiso’s last possession and Alec Peters never got a good look at a half-court heave that fell short and dropped the Crusaders a game behind second-place Cleveland State in the Horizon League.
“I’ll have to go back and watch the film again,” Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew said when asked to address Carter’s defensive gamble. “I don’t want to handcuff our players defensively. If he knocks it back and steals the ball, we win and he’s a hero.”
Once Howard Jr. got control of the ball, the former Western Michigan transfer took one dribble and hit a spot-up 3-pointer from nearly the same spot that Marquette’s Dominic James delivered a buzzer-beating game-winner against the Crusaders in 2006.
“I saw the opening and when you’re a shooter and you have an opening, you’ve got to take the shot,” Howard Jr. said. “I’ve missed some game-winners earlier in the year and Coach (Ray McCallum) told me to stay after it.”
The night got off to a rousing start as world-famous singer Jim Cornelison belted out his signature version of the national anthem, bringing the ARC crowd to their feet. The Crusaders (14-11, 6-4) failed to match the energy level in the first half as they were slowed by quick whistles and a strong Detroit defense.
Lavonte Dority was hounded virtually every time he touched the ball and the reigning Horizon League Player of the Week was limited to just four field goals and 13 points.
“Give a lot of credit to their defense,” Dority said. “They made it tough for the team overall. The ball just didn’t bounce our way.”
Peters delivered his finest conference game to date with 16 points and was nearly the hero when his floater fell in with 37 seconds left to give the Crusaders a 57-56 lead. The last time Peters scored more than 13 points against a Division I opponent was when the freshman scored 30 against Loyola Marymount on Dec. 14.
“The bottom line is we still lost the game,” Peters said. “We want to win and it doesn’t matter how it happens. Yeah, I made some shots, but the result wasn’t what we wanted.”
Howard Jr. led the Titans (11-14, 4-6) with 19 points while Evan Bruinsma had 12 points and 10 rebounds.