With so many emotions on Senior Day, the first minute of the game between Valparaiso and visiting Detroit Mercy was played at a frenetic pace. There were steals, blocked shots, fastbreaks, and missed layups. But both teams soon settled down into their half-court offenses and an exciting game ensued with Valpo prevailing 90-74. Each team’s star player shined brightly. Alec Peters led the Crusaders with 32 points and 11 rebounds. He was very active around the perimeter, making 5 three-pointers. In typical Peters fashion, he also did a lot of the dirty work around the basket with 7 offensive boards and difficult put-backs in congested lanes. Paris Bass could not be checked defensively off the dribble en route to scoring 28 points on 10-17 shooting from the field. Bass also had four steals and six turnovers. Almost all of the Titans scoring came from three players, as they amazingly had zero points off the bench. Titans senior point guard Carlton Brundidge continued his breakout season by adding 19 points, and Anton Wilson had 17 points. Valpo did a great job in containing talented Titans low-post scorer Jaleel Hogan, who was guarded by Vashil Fernandez and Jubril Adekoya much of the game. They sometimes even double-teamed Hogan, who finished with just 4 points and 2 rebounds.
The most interesting stat is that Detroit Mercy actually shot the ball better than Valpo from the field, 52.1% to 46.6%. But the Titans only had 48 attempts, when they are used to attempting in the 60’s each game. That is because it was hard to get shots off against Valpo’s intense defense, which is clearly one of the best in the country. Valpo had a lot of second chance scoring opportunities as they had 15 offensive rebounds, while the Titans had just five. Vashil Fernandez constantly gave the Titans problems with his long arms as he had 5 blocked shots, to go along with 9 rebounds and 8 points. In the middle of the first half, it appeared that Hogan had an easy layup, but he never saw Fernandez behind him who swatted the shot attempt and the Crusaders got the ball back. Keith Carter was great in his final home game as he nearly notched a double-double, finishing with 13 points, 8 assists, and 5 steals. The free throw line has been a source of frustration for Titans fans much of this season. Today was much of the same as the Titans were just 15-27 (55.6%) from the line. Meanwhile, Valpo got to the line a bit more and shot better as they were 24-31 (77.4%).
Despite Valpo leading from start to finish, the Titans still had their chances to get back into the game. What hurt them was when they fouled jump shooters a handful of times, including Alec Peters twice when he shot three pointers. Both times, he made all three free throw attempts. It is never a good feeling to play tough team defense for a possession, only to foul an airborne shooter behind the arc. The can lead to a feeling of dejection for a team. The Titans got to within 65-55 in the middle of the second half before Peters was fouled shooting a three for the second time. This propelled Valpo on an 11-0 run to take their largest lead of the game at 76-55 with about seven minutes left. But the Titans still fought admirably, going on an 11-1 run of their own to cut the lead back down to 11 before Valpo coasted to the finish line.
The game felt closer than its final margin of 16 points, and was another entertaining battle in a great Horizon League season. Valpo (24-5, 14-2) goes on the road to both Wisconsin schools to close out their regular season. After their final game next Sunday, they will get to rest up and will not play again until Monday, March 7th in the Horizon League semi-finals. But each of those games in the Badger State are still important for their NCAA Tournament profile, should they lose in the H-League tourney. Detroit Mercy (15-13, 9-8) has a big rivalry game at Oakland on Friday night to close out their regular season. The Titans will end up as either the 4th, 5th, or 6th seed for the upcoming conference tournament.