VALPARAISO — Any win that comes on the tail end of a five-game losing streak is pretty, so forgive Valparaiso men’s basketball coach Matt Lottich if he doesn’t apologize for how the final moments of Wednesday night’s game against Indiana State unfolded.
The Crusaders looked like they had the game well in hand with a seven-point lead with just over a minute remaining, but missed free throws and a couple of untimely fouls allowed the Sycamores to cut the deficit down to two points with 30 seconds left.
John Kiser delivered two big free throws and Tevonn Walker added an exclamation dunk in the final moments to close out a 69-63 victory at the Athletics-Recreation Center and bring an end to Valparaiso’s longest losing streak since 2008-09.
“When you haven’t won in a while, some crazy stuff can happen at the end of the game,” Lottich said. “We’re going to enjoy this one for sure. We play a great team (Southern Illinois) on Saturday. We can’t rest very long. It feels good obviously. (Fans) don’t see the type of effort and commitment (daily in practice). I’m glad we can feel a win. It’s nice to know all that hard work is paying off.”
The in-state conference rivals battled back and forth for much of the second half before Indiana State walkon Matt Deady scored a layup with 5:14 left to give the Sycamores a 54-51 lead. Jaume Sorolla split a pair of free throws on the next possession to bring Valparaiso within two points and then Markus Golder knocked down his first 3-pointer since Jan. 13 to give the Crusaders to lead for good with 3:56 remaining. Golder was shooting just 21.1 percent (4-19) from beyond the arc in Valley play entering Wednesday night’s game.
“Personally, that was a big weight coming off my shoulders,” Golder said. “I’ve been in a slump recently. I put in time in the gym, so I was confident in letting that one go.”
Max Joseph had the assist on Golder’s 3-pointer and then stole the ball from Indiana State’s Brenton Scott on the ensuing possession. Joseph took the ball all the way to the basket and threw down an emphatic slam that brought the ARC faithful to their feet.
“That dunk was huge,” Lottich said. “I’ve been joking around with Max that I had more collegiate dunks than he had. Now we’re tied. I was really proud of his effort. He was really tough down the stretch.”
Bakari Evelyn hit a 3-pointer and added a free throw to push Valparaiso’s lead to 63-56 before the Sycamores (10-13, 5-6) started to claw back in the game. Scott scored a conventional three-point play and then Jordan Barnes hit two free throws to bring Indiana State within two points with 30 seconds left before Kiser and Walker came up with a pair of big contributions to ice Valparaiso’s first victory in three weeks.
“Obviously this feels pretty good,” Lottich said. “The one thing I thought we did is we competed really hard for 40 minutes. I thought throughout the season, specifically in conference, there would just be times we’ll compete for 32 minutes and then have an 8-minute lull. Tonight, we had a consistent effort.”
Evelyn scored 12 of his team-high 20 points in the first half as the Crusaders (12-12, 3-8) jumped out to a nine-point lead before taking a 34-30 advantage into the locker room. Walker added 14 points and four steals while Golder had nine points and five rebounds. Barnes led the Sycamores with a game-high 23 points and Scott, averaging 16.7 points in conference, was held to nine points.