After a close first half, Valparaiso used its stout and calculated defense to overwhelm and wear down Oakland, en route to an 84-67 victory in front of the largest crowd in O’rena history (4,110). This was a battle of what many viewed as the top two teams in the Horizon League. Now there is great argument as to where the league’s teams could be ranked in the two through ten spots. There is no doubt as to who is still the class of the conference. The Crusaders, whose 84 points were the most they scored against a Division 1 opponent this season, were led by sophomore guard Tevonn Walker who scored a career-high 24 points. He was lights-out and looked very comfortable from three-point range, going 6-8 from downtown. Oakland’s defense struggled to match-up with versatile junior forward Alec Peters, who burned the Golden Grizzlies from inside and around the perimeter. Peters finished with an efficient 15 points and 11 rebounds, good for his fifth double-double this season. Senior Vashil Fernandez was a good as advertised defensively with three blocks and grabbing a game-high 12 rebounds. A lot of what he does on the defensive end does not even end up in the box score as he alters shots, and deters opponents from even going in the paint to try to score. This is evident as Valpo dominated Oakland 32-18 in points in the paint. Valpo also outrebounded Oakland 49-31, some of those rebounds going to the Crusaders because they appeared to out hustle Oakland. It is scary how balanced Valpo is offensively, as it is hard to predict which role players will score key baskets to lengthen their lead.
One of Valpo’s goals defensively was to contain Oakland’s superstar point guard Kay Felder. They did a great job of this, forcing Felder into many difficult shots. He finished with 20 points, but only shot 8-28 from the field. He also only attempted four free throws, when he had attempted double digits from the charity stripe in six games this season. Oakland only shot 34.3% from the field, about 3% less than what Valpo had allowed opponents to shoot this season. Percy Gibson continues to struggle, as he was largely ineffective on both ends of the floor. Jalen Hayes had a good game, including some nice offensive moves. Aside from Felder, Sherron Dorsey-Walker has really become the most consistent Golden Grizzly on both ends of the court. Valpo had a 39-38 lead less than two minutes into the second half. A couple of Walker’s threes spurted them on a 12-2 run to go up 51-40. Oakland would briefly get back to within six points, until Valpo continued to wear them down and lengthen the lead even further. Valpo’s experience shows in their half-court offense as they are patient and make good passes and decisions. Rarely does Valpo take an ill-advised jump shot. After a couple of shaky performances earlier in the season, Valpo looks to continue to ascend as they look to soon crack the national top-25 rankings. The Crusaders (12-3, 2-0) travel to play Detroit Mercy on Sunday, who is also undefeated in league play. Oakland (9-7, 1-2) hosts a struggling Illinois-Chicago squad the same afternoon.