NORMAL, ILL. — There was a stretch during Saturday night’s nationally televised contest against Illinois State where the Valparaiso men’s basketball team had an opportunity to pull itself out of last place in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Trailing by six points with nearly nine minutes left in the first half, the Crusaders played lockdown defense for more than five minutes, forcing Illinois State into nine straight misses as well as a turnover. The grand result of all that defensive work was wiped out by an inefficient offense as Valparaiso still trailed by six points when William Tinsley snapped the Redbirds out of their funk with a dunk with 3:51 remaining in the half.
Tinsley’s dunk sparked Illinois State on a 10-3 run to close out the half. The Redbirds kept pace with a 76-65 victory to send the Crusaders to their fifth straight loss for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
“They went on a run and it just seemed like we were deflated at that point,” Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich said. “Our team always play hard, I really love that about our guys. (Saturday), as its been a lot of nights, the ball wasn’t going in the basket.”
The Crusaders (11-12, 2-8) missed their first 14 3-pointers and finished shooting 15.8 percent (3 of 16) from the perimeter. Tevonn Walker missed all five of his 3-point shots while Bakari Evelyn was 2 of 8 from beyond the arc.
“I thought we were getting some good looks,” Lottich said. “We have to get some guys some confidence back; maybe change some things up. For the most part the competitive spirit is still there, the work ethic is still there. It’s hard to win when shots aren’t falling the way they are.”
The Redbirds (11-11, 5-5) also struggled with perimeter shooting, missing 19 of their 23 3-point shots. Illinois State found other ways to score as Phil Fayne delivered a career night with 24 points on 11-of-12 shooting and nine rebounds. The junior dominated every aspect of the game until he collided with John Kiser while diving for a ball late in the contest and limped off the court. Fayne stayed on the bench, but said after the game that he’ll be fine.
“My teammates were finding me, just giving me the ball,” Fayne said. “(Valparaiso) has two big dudes (out there) that put their hands up and look like skyscrapers. We had to move the ball around and find the openings. We were able to jump and slice in to find shots.”
The play of the night came early in the second half when Illinois State guard Madison Williams grabbed a rebound and went coast-to-coast, finishing with a one-handed dunk over Merrillville product Mileek McMillan. Williams stood over McMillian like a conquering hero after the play and earned a technical foul in the process, bringing Redbird Arena to its feet with a combination of elation and frustration.
“That dunk charged me up,” Illinois State guard Keyshawn Evans said. “I wasn’t a lick tired for the rest of the game. He deserved the technical, but it was just passion.”
“He made me not want to dunk anymore, not if it can’t be like Madison’s dunk,” Fayne added. “Did he go in my locker before the game and see my jumping lessons?”
Evelyn led Valparaiso with 20 points, once again scoring the bulk of his points in the latter stages of the game when the Crusaders were frantically trying to get back in the contest. Derrik Smits set a career high with 17 points, while Walker had 16 points and five rebounds.
Illinois State star Milik Yarbrough returned to the starting lineup after suffering a toe injury and had 17 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, while Evans added 17 points.