The Men Who Speak Up Main Event field has had mid-major fans craving for the potential BYU-Valparaiso final since before the season began. Luck was on their side in Las Vegas late Monday night as both BYU and Valparaiso took care of business to set up that match.
It was relatively smooth sailing for the Cougars, as BYU put away Saint Louis by a final of 92-62. The Billikens kept things close in the first half but were worn out by BYU’s dominant forwards Kyle Davis and Eric Mika. Davis led all Cougars in scoring with 22 points on 10 of 13 shooting from the floor. Mika chipped in 20 points of his own with 10 rebounds for a double-double and threw in three blocks for good measure. It was that dominant interior presence that lifted the Cougars to the win on a night where they struggled from distance, shooting just 3 of 13 from three point range. BYU is now 4-0 to start the year.
Valparaiso was met with much heavier resistance. The Crusaders battled Alabama from start to finish with the largest lead by either team only reaching 10. Valparaiso finally began to show signs of shaking off their team-wide three point shooting slump, hitting on 7 of 18 attempts from long distance. Turnovers hurt the Crusaders and allowed Alabama to stay in the game. Two big three-point plays from Alec Peters in the final minutes helped solidify the Valparaiso win. Peters led all scorers with 24 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and was a perfect 7-7 from the free throw line. Jubril Adekoya also played a big role on offense for the Crusaders, knocking down three shots from long distance. The Crusaders improved to 4-1 on the year with the win.
This sets up a battle of titans on Wednesday night. BYU and Valparaiso are expected to be among the best teams mid-major basketball has to offer this season. A win on Wednesday could also go along way on Selection Sunday, depending on how the rest of the season shakes out. Neither team wants to end up in the NIT again, where they met in the semifinals last year.
There was plenty of other mid-major action outside of Las Vegas on Monday as well:
Winthrop upsets Illinois on the road
The Winthrop Eagles, expected to be among the top contenders for the Big South title, shocked Illinois in Champaign. Part of the NIT Season Tip-Off, the Eagles outlasted the Fighting Illini in overtime by a final of 84-80. Senior Keon Johnson carried Winthrop in this one with 38 points, six rebounds, and three assists.
Bucknell takes down Vanderbilt
Winthrop has to share the spotlight with the Bucknell Bison. Bucknell outscored Vanderbilt in both halves to squeak out a narrow 75-72 win on the road in the Continental Tires Invitational. Junior Zach Thomas led the Bison in scoring with 17 points while Nana Foulland contributed a double-double on 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Undefeated seasons keep rolling
A few mid-majors (besides BYU) kept undefeated starts going on Monday:
- Marshall beat Jackson State, 71-61, to improve to 4-0.
- Texas A&M-Corpus Christi edged Texas State, 73-69, to move to 3-0.
- South Dakota took down Kent State, 80-77, in the Gulf Coast Showcase and is now 5-0.
- Central Michigan handed Pepperdine its first loss with an 88-77 final in the Lone Star Showcase. The Chippewas are now 4-0.
Other finals of note:
- Vermont held on for a one-point win over Wofford to continue its hot start. The Catamounts are now 4-1.
- Loyola (IL) bested Pac 12 foe Washington State in the Paradise Jam by a final of 88-79.
- Little Rock outlasted St. Bonaventure 68-65. This will be a solid road win for the Trojans, who move to 3-1. At the same time, it is a disappointing loss for a St. Bonaventure team with high aspirations. The Bonnies are now 1-2.
- Texas Southern continued an impressive start to the year, beating James Madison on the road, 67-56. The Tigers are now 4-1 and have played exclusively road games to start the year.
- San Diego State recorded a double-digit road win over California to improve to 3-1. Their one loss came to Gonzaga, so you have to like the Aztecs chances of creeping up in some polls after this one.