VALPARAISO — Valparaiso was locked in a tight affair with visiting Illinois State on Sunday afternoon when the Crusaders put together a stretch of three plays that built the Athletics-Recreation Center into a cacophony of emotions.
Bakari Evelyn sandwiched a pair of 3-pointers around an alley-oop dunk to Markus Golder that helped turn a rock fight into a blowout in quick fashion as the Crusaders knocked off Illinois State 74-58 in Missouri Valley Conference action.
Evelyn had a game-high 22 points and three assists while Golder added 16 points and four rebounds as the Crusaders (12-14, 3-10) won for just the second time in their last nine games.
“It feels great to be able to get a win,” Evelyn said. “We had a few tough games on the road that we felt we had and let them go in the final minutes. It feels great; we’ll try to build off this.”
The Crusaders led by five with just less than six minutes remaining when Evelyn knocked down his third 3-pointer of the game and second within 75 seconds. Max Joseph stole the ball on the ensuing possession, flipping it ahead to Evelyn who found Golder for the soaring alley-oop. Moments later, after a pair of 3-point misses from the Redbirds, Golder missed a perimeter shot that led to a wild scrum on the floor. Bodies flew everywhere as Tevonn Walker got in the mix and pushed the ball out to Evelyn who calmly buried another 3-pointer to push Valparaiso’s lead to 64-51 with 4:08 remaining. The Redbirds (14-12, 8-6) would never get closer.
“I saw Tevonn and Max fighting, fighting to the get the ball,” Evelyn said. “Tevonn was able to rip it through.”
“That fires me up more than anything, to see the fight and the will and the determination,” Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich added. “Not a lot of players can do it. I’m glad they’re on our team.”
The highlights weren’t finished for the Crusaders as Golder threw down another thunderous alley-oop in the final minute after the game was already well in hand. The play was seemingly a response to the first meeting between the two teams last month when Illinois State guard Madison Williams made SportsCenter with a dunk over Merrillville product Mileek McMillan. The Crusaders didn’t shy away from talking about their numerous dunks after the game.
“We for sure wanted to get revenge,” Evelyn said. “That (Williams dunk) was something that happened to us and our team that we weren’t OK with. We wanted to send a message.”
The Redbirds came into the game shorthanded, playing without starters Keyshawn Evans (knee) and Phil Fayne (ankle). The two players combined for 41 of Illinois State’s 76 points in last month’s 11-point win over the Crusaders. William Tinsley had 13 points for the Redbirds while Mileek Yarbrough had 10 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
“We just had bad body language, a couple of guys in particular and it showed in our play,” Illinois State coach Dan Mueller said. “I hate talking about lessons this late in the season. I don’t think you learn much late in the season like this. You just either choose to compete or you don’t; you choose to handle adversity or you don’t. We chose not to, and it’s always a choice.”