Valparaiso head coach Matt Lottich was visibly frustrated that his team couldn’t finish off its upset bid against No. 25 Drake on Saturday. The good news for Lottich and his team is that they’ll get another chance right away.
The Bulldogs rallied from an eight-point halftime deficit to remain undefeated, squeaking out an 80-77 win on Valpo’s home court. They’ll meet again at Valparaiso, Ind., on Sunday afternoon.
“I hurt for our guys,” Lottich said. “Obviously, it’s not every day you get a ranked team to come in. I thought (the Crusaders) took a gameplan and bought into it. They really used their practice time well and got better this week. We were right there.”
The Crusaders (6-12, 3-6 Missouri Valley) trailed by just one with less than three minutes remaining. DJ Wilkins and Roman Penn knocked down 3-pointers for Drake to give it some breathing room.
“Drake is a heck of a team and they’ve got a lot of ways they can beat you. They found ways today,” Lottich said. “They really rebounded well and they made their shots, made their plays, made their layups late and we just weren’t able to do that. But there’s a lot of positives here.”
If the Crusaders want to finish the job on Sunday, they’ll have to do a better job of boxing out and defending the lane. Drake won the battle of the boards, 47-27, and outscored Valparaiso 50-28 in the paint.
The Crusaders have lost three straight following a three-game winning streak.
“It definitely stinks,” Valparaiso’s Sheldon Edwards said. “Our biggest problem is closing out games and it’s getting more and more evident.”
Edwards was a bright spot, scoring 20 points off the bench. Ben Krikke had 16 points and another reserve, Jacob Ognasevic, added 11 points.
“A lot of young guys played really, really well,” Lottich said. “We’ve just got to get over that hump. … I wish we could have won this game, just because of the effort, the effort all week, really.”
Drake (18-0, 9-0) had five players in double figures while shooting 53.2 percent overall and 60 percent in the second half. ShanQuan Hemphill led the way with 18 points and 12 rebounds, while Joseph Yesufu contributed 12 points off the bench.
Tremell Murphy, who erupted for 30 points against Illinois State on Monday, recorded his first double-double this season with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Following two postponements, the Bulldogs have won four of their last five games by single digits.
“We’ve had a couple of close games since we’ve come back,” coach Darian DeVries said. “Finding ways to win games when it’s tight like that is a great sign, and it shows what our group is about and their togetherness and willingness to continue to battle.”
DeVries wasn’t surprised that Valparaiso provided a tough challenge.
“I was talking to their coach before the game and told him I really like his team,” said DeVries. “They’ve got some young guys and they play with a lot of spirit and a lot of energy. You saw it in that first half. They can really get it going and put you in some tough spots.”
–Field Level Media