VALPARAISO | Needing a basket with the game on the line, Valparaiso’s LaVonte Dority put his head down and made a play.
The senior guard, who had struggled with his shot all night, came up big when the Crusaders needed him most. Dority hit a runner with 8.8 seconds left to help hold off Murray State 77-74 in a wild season-opener at the Athletics-Recreation Center on Friday night.
The senior was just 2-of-12 from the field with five turnovers before his game-clinching basket.
“I was just focused on making a winning play,” he said. "My teammates trusted me and got me the ball to make a play."
Dority’s basket came as the Racers (0-1) had cut Valparaiso’s double- digit lead down to two points late in the game. Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew called timeout with 12.6 seconds left and six seconds on the shot clock, setting up Dority’s late-game heroics.
“LaVonte played big for us last year; he’s had a great summer of workouts,” Drew said. “He didn’t shoot the ball well and he’d be the first to tell you that. The whole team has a lot of confidence in him.”
The Crusaders (1-0) used an 18-6 run in the final five minutes of the first half to take a 38-31 lead into the locker room. Despite going stretches without scoring a field goal, Valparaiso never let the Racers even the score in the second half.
“They made a couple runs so we needed to get defensive stops,” Valparaiso senior Jordan Coleman said. “We took that upon ourselves that we needed to get stops and go win the game.”
Coleman finished with a career-high 16 points and equaled his career-mark with eight rebounds. Vashil Fernandez put forth a breakout performance with career-highs with 14 points and seven rebounds. The Crusaders outscored Murray State 38-28 in the paint and outrebounded the Racers 44-35.
“This offseason really helped me a lot,” Fernandez said. “I traveled and played against really good players, and I also stayed here in the summer and worked hard.”
The game marked the Valparaiso debut for six players, including four freshmen who played 40 percent of the overall minutes. Freshman starter Alec Peters had 12 points and eight rebounds while Clay Yeo added five points, three rebounds, three assists and a steal in 27 reserve minutes.
“(First-year assistant) Coach Matt Lottich was coaching his first college game and he asked afterward if they were all this crazy,” Drew said. “We told them that yes, they pretty much are. We had a lot of guys playing their first game tonight. I thought the crowd was tremendous and it really helped give us a spark.”