VALPARAISO | Ball control, defense and hitting free throws.
It's a simple formula and not always exciting to watch, but it's been working lately for Valparaiso and first-year coach Matt Thomas.
The Vikings put it all together Friday night against Times No. 7 LaPorte, methodically taking down the Slicers 58-51 in a Duneland Athletic Conference showdown.
Valpo (9-6, 3-2 DAC) led 10-9 and 19-13 at the first two stops. The Vikings then extended the lead to 33-20 after three and by the middle of the fourth quarter had made 16 consecutive free throws.
They finished 23 of 25 from the line, a season-best using the old Valpo Free Throw Method.
"We work hard at it," Thomas said. "The players' trust in me meant at lot, being a first-year coach changing everybody's form. Some kids wouldn't take that very well, but not these guys."
Valpo was patient offensively throughout the first half, and got a big boost from junior Cole Wolf who made his first start of the season.
Wolf buried a pair of 3-pointers in the first half, and hit another early in the third quarter to give the Vikings their first double-digit lead at 24-13. Wolf finished with 13 points and three steals.
"Cole played a great game for us," Thomas said. "LaPorte did a great job guarding Justin Osburn, so having Cole step up was a huge pressure release for us."
Junior forward Drew Paul continued his personal hot streak, scoring a career-high 21 points to go along with five rebounds. He was 8-for-8 from the line.
"Drew's a very hard worker," Thomas said. "We always preach 'work works,' and he's living proof of it. He practices so hard."
Sophomore center Conner TenHove added 10 points for the Vikings.
Valpo used a zone defensively to frustrate the Slicers (10-6, 1-3 DAC).
Big man Gage Ott led the Slicers with 19 points and seven rebounds, but 11 points came in the fourth quarter when LaPorte was in catchup mode. Guard Josh Fleming was held to 14 points on 2-for-11 shooting, having missed his first nine field-goal attempts.
LaPorte missed 12 consecutive shots from the beginning of the second quarter until midway through the third.
"They kind of dictated the tempo," LaPorte coach Tom Wells said. "We weren't very effective against their zone. I didn't think we played with a huge sense of urgency over the course of 32 minutes.
"Ultimately the game was won at the free-throw line. I didn't like anything from our warm-up to how we let them dictate the game. We never got in attack mode."