In the postgame interview with the ESPN commentators, Valparaiso star junior Alec Peters could not have said it any better when asked about the disappointment of not making the NCAA Tournament. “You can either give up, or show up.” The #1 seed Crusaders and their fans showed up in the first two
rounds for Valpo’s wins over Texas Southern and Florida State. Tuesday night was no exception, as Valpo defeated #2 seed St. Mary’s 60-44 in the NIT Quarterfinals, before an Athletics-Recreation Center record crowd of 5,444.
The visiting Gaels controlled much of the first half, holding onto a 31-29 lead at halftime. But the second half was another story as they shot 20.7% from the field, which included missing their first 10 shots. This further proves Valpo as one of the best defensive teams in the country. 44 points is the fewest points Valpo has given up this season to a Division 1 opponent. The Gaels entered the game as the seventh best three-point shooting team in the nation at 41.3%. They were just 5-19 in this game from downtown, which is 26.3%. Forward Dane Pineau was the only St. Mary’s player to score in double-figures with 11 points. Three-point sharpshooter Stefan Gonzalez added 9 points off the bench, while the Gaels leading scorer, sophomore Emmett Naar (14.2 ppg), was limited to 8 points. Six players on St. Mary’s roster, including Pineau and Naar, are from Australia.
Valpo forward Peters continues to prove that he is one of the best players in the country, scoring a game high 20 points. He also added 8 rebounds and had 5 assists. Vashil Fernandez had what has become a typical stat line for him, with 9 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 blocks. An impressive sequence early in the game was when Fernandez scored on a tough jump hook. On the next defensive possession, he showed how good of a rim protector he is by blocking a shot. Since good defense is often rewarded on the other end, Fernandez got a slam dunk on the other side of the court. It is good to see sophomore guard Tevonn Walker continue to get more action, although he still is not 100%. He notched 6 points in just 16 minutes, and looked more nimble than he has in a while.
One of the best parts of this game was when the clock hit triple zeros. The fans stormed the court and celebrated. When Valpo players were done shaking hands with their opponents, they joined the crowd to give high fives, hugs, smile, and just enjoy the special moment with friends and family. Then the song “Empire State of Mind” was played, specifically the catchy chorus that mentions “New York” City. If you did not get goosebumps at that moment, then you need to think about just how much college basketball means to people and can bring them together. Valpo is headed to the Big Apple, and specifically Madison Square Garden, the Mecca of college basketball. If there is one thing about this team you can take to the bank, it is that they will definitely “show up.” They will continue to represent their school and the Horizon League well.
St. Mary’s season ends with an impressive 29-6 record. Expectations will be very high for the Gaels next seasons all players are expected to return. Valparaiso (29-6) set a new school record for wins. They will play next Tuesday in the NIT semifinal at Madison Square Garden versus another West Coast Conference team, the BYU Cougars. BYU (26-10) defeated Creighton to punch their semifinals ticket.