VALPARAISO — Whatever ailment plagued the Valparaiso men’s basketball team while losing seven games in four-week span was officially eradicated on Wednesday night.
The Crusaders set season highs in 3-pointers and assists while nearly leading wire-to-wire in a dominating 77-60 win over first-place Drake in Missouri Valley Conference action at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
Tevonn Walker equaled his season high with 26 points and Max Joseph established a new career high with eight assists while scoring in double figures for the fifth time in six games with 16 points.
“Somewhere along the line in December we lost our confidence,” Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich said. “For us, it’s staying the course, keep chopping wood, trust the process, whatever you want to say. You’ve got to play the game confident. Those were our two seniors and there’s times when you need to lean on men like that.”
Walker scored 19 of his game-high 26 points in the first half, including two 3-pointers in 90 seconds that helped open up Valparaiso’s lead. Joseph added two more 3-pointers in the first half as the Crusaders shot 8 of 15 (53.3 percent) from beyond the arc before the break and 64.3 percent (18-28) from the floor.
“The guys came out ready to play and as a team you feed off that,” Walker said.
Walker was playing in his fifth straight game after missing four games due to mononucleosis earlier this season. The senior remarked that he got in the gym a lot more earlier in the week and that he was still getting back into shape. Walker showed his strength in the second half when he dove on the ground rip away a loose ball from a Drake player, leading to an extra Valparaiso possession. Both Walker and Joseph are known for their tenacity in scrums, and the ARC faithful applauded their efforts throughout the night on Wednesday.
“I’ve done a lot of pushups in the past,” Joseph said. “It’s not for nothing.”
Merrillville product Mileek McMillan continued to set the tone after halftime with a 3-pointer, and the Crusaders (11-7, 2-3) got long distance shots from Walker, Joseph and Bakari Evelyn in the second half as Valparaiso set a new season high with 12 3-pointers. Many of the perimeter shots came off good ball movement as both Joseph (8) and Micah Bradford (7) established new personal bests in assists. The Crusaders finished the night with 25 assists, their second straight game with at least 22 after going four straight games with no more than 10 assists.
“We were sprinting to our spots,” Joseph said. “The execution was there, everyone knew what we were doing. It was just the reads, how we read the defense.”
As good as the offense was, Valparaiso’s defense also earned high praise from Lottich after the game. Reed Timmer came into the night averaging a Valley-best 19.4 points per game. With Walker leading the charge, the Crusaders held Timmer to just seven points on 3-7 shooting.
“Defense is the thing that can always be consistent,” Lottich said. “There are times you’ll hit shots, like tonight, and times we’re not. We wanted to make it difficult for him. It was a good defensive effort. We put different bodies on him, we defend as a team. It’s a collective effort.”
Graham Woodward had 15 points to lead the Bulldogs (10-8, 4-1) while Nick McGlynn added 11 points and three assists. Derrik Smits had 10 points and four rebounds for the Crusaders.