PEORIA — Life in The Valley continued to be a bumpy road for the Valparaiso men’s basketball team on Wednesday night.
The Crusaders lost their third straight conference game, this time falling 80-71 at Bradley to drop to 0-3 in their inaugural season in the Missouri Valley Conference. Wednesday’s loss marked the first time since the 1999-2000 season that Valparaiso lost its first three conference games of the season.
Valparaiso has now lost seven of its last eight games since starting the season 8-0.
Wednesday’s game, the first between Valparaiso and Bradley in more than 24 years, was a foul-filled contest. The teams combined for 55 personal fouls and 67 free throws.
The Braves struck quickly by scoring the first 11 points of the game, but the Crusaders got back-to-back 3-pointers from Tevonn Walker and Micah Bradford to stop the bleeding. Bakari Evelyn later added consecutive 3-pointers to give Valparaiso its first lead at 20-19 with 7:45 remaining in the first half.
The Crusaders led by as many as four points in the first half as Walker knocked down his third 3-pointer of the game and then Marten Linssen added a jumper to give Valparaiso a 28-24 lead late in the half. Markus Golder and Darrell Brown traded baskets down the stretch before Nate Kennell ended the half with a 3-pointer to tie the game 33-33 going into the locker room.
Neither team could gain an advantage in the early stages of the second half as each team scored three times in the opening minutes. It wasn’t until Koch Bar sandwiched four points around a jumper from Luuk van Bree that the Braves (12-4, 2-1) opened more than a one-possession lead. The Crusaders would get no closer than five points in the final nine minutes of the game as the parade to the free-throw line continued through much of the second half.
Donte Thomas gave the Braves a 66-59 lead with 5:47 remaining after taking a dish from Brown. Thomas’ shot was Bradley’s final layup as 24 of the last 26 points of the night came from the charity stripe.
Walker was a perfect 10-10 from the free-throw line and finished with a team-high 25 points and seven rebounds. Golder added 11 points off the bench, his highest point total since scoring 12 points against Santa Clara last month.
Thomas led four Bradley players in double figures with 19 points to go along with 12 rebounds. Koch Bar added 14 points and seven rebounds while Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye added 14 rebounds and five assists. Valparaiso was outrebounded 45-30. The Crusaders haven’t grabbed more than 31 rebounds in conference play after getting more than 40 rebounds on five occasions in the nonconference slate.
Valparaiso returns to the Athletics-Recreation Center on Saturday when the Crusaders take on Southern Illinois. The Salukis knocked off Evansville 65-63 on Wednesday night.