By: Sammy Stava
On the second game of opening night of the 2020 MVC Tournament, it was an in-state Indiana rivalry between seventh seeded Valparaiso and 10th seeded Evansville. The Aces of Evansville came into conference tournament play with an 0-18 MVC record, but don’t necessarily be fooled by that.
Back on November 12th, the Aces just so happened to beat then No. 1 Kentucky at Rupp Arena. Also, Evansville’s two games against Valparaiso earlier this season were decided by a combined four points. Once again, this in-state rivalry between these two teams lived up to the billing. This one went down to the wire to close out opening night.
Valparaiso led 31-25 at the half, despite going 0-for-7 from three-point range. And that continued for the next 20 minutes as the Crusaders ended the game 0-10 from deep. It was the first time in Arch Madness history that a team did not make a three-pointer.
“I guess we made history tonight. Winning a game where we don’t – actually, just don’t hit a three in the tournament,” – Valpo head coach Matt Lottich said. That’s right, Valparaiso won without making a three-pointer.
The Crusaders managed to win by three points. In a 58-55 victory, Valparaiso advanced to Quarterfinal Friday to take on No. 2 seed Loyola. The team can thank their freshman guard Donavan Clay who stepped up on the big stage where they needed it the most.
Clay, from Alton, Illinois led the Crusaders on the night with a team-high 16 points. He also had the game-winning block on the final defensive possession.
“There are big things to come from him, but, again, without Donavan tonight, we don’t win this game,” – head coach Matt Lottich said of the freshman.
Maybe Valparaiso doesn’t win without Javon Freeman-Liberty, either. Freeman-Liberty, Valpo’s leading scorer on the season, was out for the last couple of games with mononucleosis. In his first game since February 22nd, Freeman-Liberty added eight points, seven rebounds, and six assists in a total of 36 minutes.
“My mentality was just don’t think how tired I am. Just keep fighting. That’s what I just basically did the whole game, just keep fighting,” – Freeman-Liberty said.
It was a hard fought game, and that’s what Valparaiso is used to with Evansville. “You know, it’s hard. It’s hard to play in games where in a lot of ways you’re expected to win,” – Lottich said.
Valparaiso is moving on, and now the Crusaders will be playing a team that is expected to win. A date with No. 2 seed Loyola is set for Quarterfinal Friday at 6:00 p.m. CT on The Big 550 KTRS.