Valparaiso was by no means playing good basketball for a good portion of the second half. It didn't matter too much, as the Crusaders emerged with a tightly-contested 61-57 win Thursday night.
There were 18 ties and 13 lead changes, and neither team's star players sustained consistent success.
Valpo could have faded down 52-48 after a huge Craig Bradshaw 3-pointer with 5:18 left. Instead, it put together a 7-0 spurt over 1:50 of play, went ahead on a Victor Nickerson 3-pointer, and upped it to 55-52. Belmont's Taylor Barnette responded with a triple (his first of the night) to tie things with 2:55 to go. Another big Nickerson bucket, this time a tip-in, put the Crusaders up 57-55. Two David Skara rebonds of the offensive variety broke the back of Belmont when his putback and following free throw put Valparaiso up 60-55.
With Belmont down Austin Luke cooly stepped to the line with 1:00 to go and hit two from the charity stripe to pull the Bruins back within three, but that's as close as coach Rick Byrd's team would get.
Surely both teams went into the half scratching their heads wondering how to feel. The Crusaders were up 30-26, but couldn't get Alec Peters going. The guard, who came in averaging 16 points per game, scored his first points on a 3-pointer with 5:20 to go in the half. On the other hand, the Crusaders had slowed Belmont's potent offense. Belmont never did get going from beyond the arc or establish the rhythm that it would have liked (it shot 7-25 from distance). Peters finished with 17 points on 4-13 shooting. Keith Carter put up 14 for the winners.
This is one of those games both squads were pretty easily matched up stats wise. There were two glaring differences, one being Belmont's 19 turnovers compared to Valpo's 10. That helped create a disparity in shot opportunities, with the Crusaders attempting 18 more shots from the field, and hitting just three more. Good enough for the W.
On the night, Belmont had four double-digit scorers, but none of them eclipsed Craig Bradshaw's 12. The OVC preseason player of the year wasn't hot out of the gates, and was able to hoist up 11 shots, but wasn't the focal point of the Bruins offense. The Crusaders did an admirable job keeping Bradshaw from getting streaky and deterring Evan Bradds (11 points) from getting shots. That total was the lowest on the season for the junior, who still is shooting at a 74 percent clip on the season.
This is a feel good win for the Crusaders who had come off a loss to Ball State, and they're now 7-2. The Bruins are coming out of a daunting stretch but finished 5-4 and are by anyone's standards battle-tested. OVC play should be a breeze compared to the travel and opponents that Rick Byrd loves pitting his teams against early in the season.