VALPARAISO — Everything finally clicked for the Valparaiso offense on Saturday afternoon. Well, almost everything.
The Crusaders shook off a poor shooting performance from Tevonn Walker to put forth one of its best offensive games of the season on Saturday in an 83-72 win over Southern Illinois at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
Max Joseph led five players in double figures with a career-high 17 points and the Crusaders notched a season-best 22 assists on 27 field goals. The win snaps Valparaiso’s four-game losing streak and marks the second win in the last nine games.
“We’ve learned a lot about our character,” Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich said. “It’s not easy to continue to put one foot in front of the other when things are going bad. I’m proud of it and we’re going to build on this. The (Missouri Valley Conference) is every night, every team can beat every team. We’re proud to be in the league and proud to get our first (league) win.”
Saturday’s game looked like more of the same in the early going when the Salukis (10-7, 2-2) jumped out to a 19-8 lead. The Crusaders cut the deficit to two points before Aaron Cook knocked down a 3-pointer with 7:52 left in the half to give Southern Illinois a 27-20 lead. From that point forward it was all Valparaiso until halftime.
Micah Bradford and Joseph hit back-to-back 3-pointers to jumpstart a 23-2 run that gave Valparaiso a 43-29 lead at the break. Bakari Evelyn buried a 3-pointer just before the horn sounded to put a punctuation mark on the scoring run.
“The game was lost from the 12-minute mark to the 0 minute mark in the first half,” Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson said. “I did see (this happening). I saw it coming into this game. We threw them out of practice yesterday. We’re taking things for granted and we deserved everything we got today. They beat us in every statistical category.”
Derrik Smits, starting in the place of Jaume Sorolla, had 11 points, five rebounds and two blocks in 26 minutes. Sorolla was no slouch either, scoring a career-high 17 points in 12 minutes off the bench.
“We stayed aggressive,” Smits said. “We put up a lot of shots which is what we’ve been harping on. (Sorolla) and I didn’t really back down much the whole game. We finished up, we made a lot of shots today, but our teammates got us the ball, which we always like obviously.”
Bradford knocked down a pair of 3-pointers and had eight points, but the sophomore shined with effective ball movement. Bradford had a career-high six assists and Joseph, Evelyn and Markus Golder each added four assists.
“It started in practice,” Bradford said. “We started trusting each other a lot more, especially after (the Bradley) loss. We have to start getting rolling and all figure out what worked for us.”
Walker missed nine of his 10 shots, but added eight rebounds, two assists and two steals.
“We came in a little tight and that’s to be expected because of the losses that we’ve had,” Lottich said. “I thought Tevonn kept us in it in the first half. He got us aggressive, got us believing and by the time he went out with his second foul, we had confidence.”
Evelyn had 14 points and four 3-pointers while Golder added 13 points, four rebounds and two steals. Southern Illinois junior Armon Fletcher had a career-high 32 points to lead the Salukis.