VALPARAISO | Hands were on hips; lungs were gasping for air, and then it was time for the first overtime to start.
By the end of Friday night’s triple-overtime marathon, players from both Valparaiso and Mercer were so physically spent it was all they could do not to collapse in the handshake line.
The Bears scored the final nine points of the third overtime to outlast the Crusaders 117-108 in the first triple overtime game played at the Athletics-Recreation Center in 18 years.
Alec Peters split a pair of free throws to tie the game at 108-108 with 1:35 left, but the Bears responded with nine straight points to close out the game.
“This was a great college basketball game,” Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew said. “(Mercer) won the game. Neither team lost this one. In these games it’s one free throw, one bounce. You’re looking at such a small margin.”
The game was Valparaiso’s first triple overtime game since the Crusaders beat Western Illinois 88-85 in the 1995 Mid-Continent Conference tournament title game when Drew was a freshman.
“I remember that game, but I was locked in on coaching in this one,” Drew said.
The journey to triple overtime featured plenty of ups-and-downs for the Crusaders as three players set career-highs for points. LaVonte Dority led the Crusaders (4-4) with 31 points, including a four-point play with 11.9 seconds left in regulation that gave Valparaiso a 78-77 lead.
Mercer’s Ike Nwamu had a chance to give the Bears the win in regulation, but the sophomore split a pair of free throws with 2.1 seconds left.
“It just comes down to making winning plays,” Dority said. “Alec did a great job to get the rebound, and he got me the ball. We just had to make plays to try and win.”
Bobby Capobianco scored 18 of his career-high 23 points beginning in the second half and was the key focal point of the offense deep into overtime before fouling out with 3:33 left in the third session.
“There gets to a point in the game where you start to see the openings,” Capobianco said. “It wasn’t just me. In all three of the overtimes we had a lot of guys stepping up and making plays. I was fortunate enough to have some opportunities, but everyone made really big contributions.”
Lexus Williams added all of his 15 career-high points in the first half. The freshman finished with three assists and three steals in 51 minutes. Peters chipped in 22 points and nine rebounds in 49 minutes, while Dority added six assists in 52 minutes.
Jakob Gollun led the Bears (5-3) with 37 points and seven assists.
“There’s definitely something to learn from this,” Capobianco said. “The sting hurts, just like it hurts to lose any game. We have another game tomorrow (against Cincinnati Christian), and we can’t allow this game to affect what happens in that game.”