Valparaiso 83, Iona 58
VALPARAISO | National pundits all across the college basketball landscape pointed to Sunday's Valparaiso-Iona contest as one of the first must-see games of the season.
The Crusaders turned the viewing into their personal highlight reel. Valparaiso scored the first eight points and jumped out to an 18-2 lead before the Gaels even knew what hit them.
Tevonn Walker led five Valparaiso players in double figures with 17 points and Shane Hammink added 16 points and seven rebounds off the bench. Hammink has scored 26 points in his first two games with Valparaiso, or six points more than he scored during his entire sophomore season at LSU.
What it means: All the hype surrounding Valparaiso seems legitimate. Both teams entered the game receiving votes in the Associated Press Top 25 poll and Sunday's victory should only increase Valparaiso's resume in the eyes of the voters. One could argue that the Crusaders should beat a mid-major team at home, even if said team is viewed as one of the best mids in the country, but I don't think anyone saw a 25-point drubbing as a possible outcome. This game seems similar to last season's 35-point win over Murray State. The Racers didn't lose again until their conference tournament. Iona may not run the table in the MAAC this season and the Gaels do face a strong test on Tuesday against Oregon State (Valparaiso travels to Corvallis on Nov. 24), but Iona should be plenty good this season.
When it comes to building a postseason resume for at-large consideration or seeding purposes, the Crusaders have just grabbed their first notable win of the season. Now Valparaiso needs to cheer for Iona the rest of the way.
One reason to be excited: Just one? How about the fact that Valparaiso led 37-22 with 0:33 left in the first half before Alec Peters took his first shot attempt. After the Crusaders looked so one-dimensional in the exhibition game against Indianapolis and still seemed to wait for Peters to bail them out from time to time against IPFW, the rest of the team flexed their collective muscle while Iona followed Peters all over the court. Peters wasn't shutout for long as the junior scored five quick points at the end of the half, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. Peters added seven rebounds and three steals as Valparaiso dominated in every fashion of the game.
One reason to panic: For as good as Valparaiso looked on Sunday, Darien Walker looked lost. The senior was just 1-7 from the field, had two turnovers and was given an earful by Bryce Drew from the sideline on several defensive possessions. Not every player is going to deliver a star performance night in and night out, but it was a bit alarming to see a high volume shooter struggle with his shot.
Ouch: Valparaiso fans will certainly be awaiting news out of the training room this week as David Skara limped out of the ARC following Sunday's game with his left ankle wrapped in ice. Drew announced after the game that Skara suffered a sprained ankle. That obviously puts Skara's availability for Tuesday's game at Rhode Island in question.
While the news on Skara is unclear, Valparaiso got a boost from the return of E. Victor Nickerson. The senior underwent wrist surgery late in the summer and was only recently cleared to return to practice. Drew said after the game that Nickerson hadn't even played 5-on-5 in practice and was taking part in his first live action on Sunday. Nickerson scored 10 points
Quotable: "I expect big things from Valparaiso this season. They're going to win a lot of games." -- Iona coach Tim Cluess
What's next: The Crusaders have another marquee non-conference game on Tuesday morning when they travel to Rhode Island as part of the ESPN College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon. The game will be played at 10 a.m. local time and will be on ESPN. The Rams were expected to compete for an Atlantic 10 title this season, but those hopes may have been dashed when star guard E.C. Matthews suffered a torn ACL in the season-opener on Friday night. Rhode Island will still be a tall task for the Crusaders and the game offers another opportunity for Valparaiso to make a national statement.