VALPARAISO | Viking Gym was never so quiet during a boys basketball game on Friday night when junior Brandon Nicholas was slammed to the floor on a breakaway layup late in a win against LaPorte.
Nicholas landed hard, grabbed his head and was immediately checked by trainer Kathy Levandoski and head coach Matt Thomas.
A 6-foot-3 long-armed guard, Nicholas doesn't score a lot but is a key cog in Valpo's lock-down defense. He said he suffered a sprained left ankle and tweaked his elbow and knee, and sat out Saturday's non-conference game against Times No. 4 Bishop Noll.
"I tripped and flattened my leg," said Nicholas, who has his fingers crossed that he'll return Thursday for a Duneland Athletic Conference game against Crown Point. "I thought it was an ACL or something, because I completely crushed my leg.
"I thought it might be a bad ankle sprain, but the ankle braces we're wearing this year helped."
Nicholas' absence certainly was a factor against the Warriors, who held on for a 42-36 victory.
Noll (13-2) trailed 10-5 after the first quarter but outscored the Vikings 18-2 in the second.
Valpo sophomore Conner TenHove scored eight of his game-high 17 points in the third quarter, helping the Vikings cut into the halftime deficit.
Valpo actually tied the game early in the fourth quarter at 30-30 on a TenHove 3-pointer with 6:10 remaining. TenHove later tied it again at 34-34 on a spin move down the baseline.
But the Warriors responded with a 5-0 run. Sophomore guard Roman Penn nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key off an assist from Larry Crisler, and Crisler scored on a drive for the five-point lead.
The Warriors made just enough free throws down the stretch -- 9-of-19 overall -- to hold on for the win. The Vikings did not shoot a free throw after going 23 of 25 against LaPorte.
Penn and Tyreon Gates each scored 11 to lead Noll, while Crisler scored nine.
For the Vikings (9-7), no other player scored more than six points. Justin Osburn hit two early 3-pointers but finished 2-for-12 on the night, and Drew Paul scored just six on 3-for-10 shooting after scoring 21 against LaPorte.
Noll has now won six in a row. The Class 2A Warriors played just two other 4A teams earlier this season.
"These are the type of games that will get us ready for the sectional," Noll coach Josh Belluomini said. "It's a step up in competition, with no offense to the teams we play.
"This is practically the same team as last year. Basically I'm just waiting to have someone step up as a leader. That's the biggest thing, needing someone to step up and fill that roll."