The script for road games in the Missouri Valley Conference has been largely the same for the Valparaiso men’s basketball team this season.
The Crusaders come out looking strong and grab a halftime lead before going through a lengthy scoreless stretch in the second half that allows the home team to build up a sizable lead. Just when all hope looks lost, Valparaiso finds another gear and rallies to get within one possession of tying the game or taking the lead before the home team clinches victory from the free-throw line.
The script played out again on Wednesday night as the Crusaders fell 63-59 to Evansville in a game where the Purple Aces shot 23 free throws to Valparaiso’s five.
“It’s hard to win on the road in this league,” Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich said. “We haven’t done it yet. We have to do a lot of things better. We’re really close, but we haven’t done enough.”
Valparaiso scored the first five points of the game and led 17-12 before going more than five minutes without a basket. Undeterred, the Crusaders started to find a rhythm from the 3-point line as Micah Bradford, Mileek McMillan and Micah Bradford all knocked down perimeter shots to help give Valparaiso a 32-31 halftime advantage.
The Crusaders pounded the ball inside at the beginning of the second half, with Bakari Evelyn scoring multiple baskets on driving layups to push the lead to 41-35 with just under 14 minutes remaining. K.J. Riley scored at the basket Michigan City product Ryan Taylor knocked down a 3-pointer before Evelyn added another layup to give the Crusaders a 43-40 lead with 12:29 remaining.
Valparaiso wouldn’t score a field goal for the next seven and a half minutes as the Purple Aces (16-10, 6-7) ripped off an 11-0 run before John Kiser knocked down a pair of free throws. Kiser added another 3-pointer several minutes later and Markus Golder hit a jumper to cut the deficit down to 56-54 with 2:35 remaining.
The Crusaders had a chance at the lead on their next possession, but Tevonn Walker, limited to a season-low two points, missed an open 3-pointer. Evelyn then missed a shot at the basket after Valparaiso got another defensive stop. The Purple Aces ran their advantage back up to six points, but Golder buried his third 3-pointer of the game to bring the Crusaders within 60-57 with 30 seconds remaining. Valparaiso forced Riley into a turnover, giving the Crusaders a chance to go for a quick basket at the rim or hold for a potential game-tying 3-pointer. Evelyn chose the latter, missing a deep shot with 14 seconds left and Riley iced the game at the free throw line.
“We wanted to attack,” Lottich said. “Bakari got a switch with a post guy on him. This is going to be a situation that we can learn from. If the play happened earlier, I would’ve wanted to attack, but sooner or later we have to hit a shot. He had a pretty good look.”
Valparaiso fell to 0-7 on the road in conference play, despite being tied or having the lead in five of those games. The Crusaders had 23 made field goals to Evansville’s 22 and had five more 3-pointers than the Purple Aces. The key difference was Evansville getting to the free throw line 23 times while Valparaiso shot just five free throws. In seven conference road games this season, the Crusaders have shot 116 free throws while their opponents have shot 192.
“Look at the stat sheet, it’s actually astonishing,” Lottich said. “I know there was a drive at the end of the game where Bakari clearly got hit. I don’t know. I thought Tevonn’s charge early in the game took him out of the first half and got Ryan Taylor going.”
Golder and Evelyn each had 15 points to lead the Crusaders (12-14, 3-10) while Taylor had a game-high 31 points and seven rebounds. Walker was held to just two points, his lowest total since he was held scoreless against Oakland on Feb. 17, 2017.