Chaos was the prevailing feeling on the final day of the Missouri Valley Conference regular season.
No matter for the Valparaiso men’s basketball team as the uncertainty just gives the Crusaders a little more time to enjoy their first road victory of the conference season.
Derrik Smits scored a career-high 22 points and the Crusaders held off two furious rallies by Drake to pull out a 69-64 victory over the Bulldogs on Saturday afternoon.
Valparaiso led by nine points with under a minute remaining before the Bulldogs scored seven unanswered points to cut the deficit to 63-61. Tevonn Walker and Max Joseph responded with four free throws to ice the victory.
“It showed our guys ability to deal with pressure, which hasn’t been the case all year,” Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich said. “It shows a lot of growth. It was nice to see our seniors, Tevonn and Max, hit big free throws.”
Knocking off Drake finally gave the Crusaders the Valley road victory that has been alluding them all season. Valparaiso finished the regular season 15-16 and with a 6-12 record in conference play. The Crusaders will be the No. 10 seed at Arch Madness and will play in the second of two games on Thursday night at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
Who Valparaiso will be playing remains a mystery due to the Valley’s tiebreaker system. Evansville, Missouri State and Northern Iowa all finished with a 7-11 record in the conference and the three teams finished 2-2 against each other in round-robin play. The Valley’s second tiebreaker is based on using the overall adjusted RPI and the conference uses the numbers generated by the RPI Report on the morning after the Valley’s final regular-season game.
When Indiana State beat Bradley in the final game of conference play on Saturday afternoon, it allowed the Sycamores to escape Thursday night and throw the bottom part of the standings into chaos. According to RPIForecast.com, Evansville is ranked No. 132 in the country while Missouri State is just behind at No. 134. Northern Iowa is expected to be the No. 9 seed with a projected ranking of 144.
If those numbers hold up overnight, the Crusaders will be playing Evansville when the bracket is officially announced Sunday morning. Missouri State looks to be the only other possibility. Both teams swept Valparaiso this season.
“We’re just going to take things one game at a time,” Smits said. “That’s obviously how the rest of our year goes. We can’t get ahead of ourselves. We’ll focus on our next opponent and worry about (other) people later.”
Smits scored 12 of his career-high 22 points in the second half on Saturday, but it was a basket just before halftime that lifted the Crusaders. Valparaiso had led 28-14 with six minutes left before the Bulldogs ripped off 16 straight points. Smits finally stopped the bleeding with a basket just before the buzzer to tie the game at 30-30.
“It was huge,” Smits said. “They really went on a big run and that basket was pretty good.”
Jaume Sorolla added four points and seven rebounds and Valparaiso’s big men helped shutdown Nick McGlynn, holding the Drake forward to just two points and 1-13 shooting. Valparaiso outrebounded Drake 43-30.
“(Smits and Sorolla) were challenged a little bit after our last game and they responded,” Lottich said. “With our guys, with youth, their can be some inconsistency.”
Markus Golder had 13 points and nine rebounds while Walker added 11 points and nine rebounds. Drake’s all-time leading scorer Reed Timmer had 28 points to lead the Bulldogs (16-15, 10-8).