Ryan Fazekas made his long-awaited return to the Valparaiso men’s basketball team on Thursday night. That’s where the good news stopped for the Crusaders on a forgettable night at Missouri State.
Valparaiso endured one of its worst offensive halves of the season, shooting just 18.8 percent from the floor and 10 percent from the 3-point line in the first half. The Crusaders scratched their way back into the game in the second half, but fell 67-60 in Missouri Valley Conference action to the Bears at JQH Arena in Springfield, Mo.
“It was a tale of two halves,” Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich said. “I don’t know if lethargic is the right word, but we didn’t come out with the intensity level that is needed to win on the road. We can’t come out with that type of energy.”
Missouri State (10-10, 4-3) scored the first seven points of the game and the Crusaders (10-10, 3-4) didn’t score until Zion Morgan hit a jumper with 15:47 left in the first half.
It would take more than nine minutes for a Valparaiso starter to register a point and star sophomore Javon Freeman-Liberty was held scoreless until there was 13:45 left in the game. Freeman-Liberty finished with a season-low 11 points, with seven of those points coming in the last 63 seconds of the game. Daniel Sackey also scored 11 for the Crusaders, tying Freeman-Liberty for team honors.
“I pulled (Javon in the first half) and I told him to sit there and look and kind of get a feel of it and pick your spots,” Lottich said. “At no point did I think he was taking the wrong (shots). Maybe one or two out of the 18 he took, but those are shots that he’s been making all year.”
Valparaiso was just 2-of-20 from the 3-point line in the first half and the Crusaders ended the night shooting 20.5 percent (8-of-39) from the perimeter. Valparaiso’s 39 3-point attempts are the most in a single game since at least the 1989-90 season when the school began archiving its individual box scores.
Freeman-Liberty missed his first nine 3-point attempts while Donovan Clay and Eron Gordon each missed five shots from beyond the arc.
“They dared us to shoot it and we took the first open one and we missed,” Lottich said. “That allowed our energy to be dissipated. What we have to do is take the right ones and as a team, we know what those are. In the second half we didn’t shoot it great, but we shot the right ones.”
Fazekas played in his first game since suffering a wrist injury on Nov. 9. The Marquette grad played 21 minutes and had six points on two 3-pointers.
“In the game plan I thought we’d play him about 20 minutes tonight,” Lottich said. ‘That’s where his conditioning level would be. It’s hard to step in and make shots when you haven’t played in a game in a while.”
Keandre Cook led the Bears with 27 points, including 12-of-16 from the free throw line. Missouri Valley Conference Preseason First Team Selection Tulio Da Silva had eight rebounds, two assists and a block in his return to the court after missing a game due to family reasons.
The Crusaders return to the Athletics-Recreation Center on Sunday afternoon against Evansville. The Purple Aces fired coach Walter McCarty earlier this week and hired former Evansville assistant and Butler and Iowa head coach Todd Lickliter to lead the program.
Valparaiso knocked off the Purple Aces 81-79 on Jan. 4 for its lone conference road win of the season.
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