What a difference experience makes in close games.
Valparaiso fought back from an early deficit to beat a younger BYU squad 92-89 in the MGM Grand tournament final. This denied the Cougars a shot at redemption after a loss to the Crusaders in last year’s NIT semifinal.
The Cougars came out firing from distance, hitting 4-of-4 from the three-point arc, with two each for Nick Emery (18 points, 4-8 3FG) and TJ Haws (15 points, 3-5 3FG).
The first half was a battle of the Crusaders attacking the lane and the Cougars excellent ball movement to find open shooters. The challenge for BYU came when both of its starting post players, Kyle Davis and Eric Mika, got into early foul trouble. The Cougars were able to stay afloat due to careless turnovers from Valpo and good shot selection.
The Crusaders fed their star Alec Peters (26 points, 12 rebounds, three steals), attacked the rim and pushed in transition to claw back into the game. They overcame an early 12-point deficit to trail 46-44 at the half.
The tables turned during the second half.
Valpo built on its momentum and took control of the tempo in the second half. On the other side, BYU seemed unsettled in the half-court, especially as Mika picked up his third foul shortly after the break.
Valpo went on a 12-2 run, capped off with a monster dunk from Shane Hammink, who finished with 23 points on 8-of-13 field goal shooting.
BYU countered by going to a 1-3-1 zone to help stop the dribble penetration, but timely three-point shooting kept Valpo with a close lead. Lexus Williams, Jubril Adekoya and Tevonn Walker combined for seven three’s.
But BYU had another run in it. The Cougars took an 85-83 the lead out of the under four media timeout on an open three from David Guinn (11 points, 3-3 3FG).
The game of runs would tilt back to the Valpo as Hammink drove the lane for a layup on the next possession. The dagger came from Walker (13 points, five rebounds), whose three put the Crusaders up 88-85. BYU’s final opportunity came after two missed Crusader free throws, but the final shot was no good from Mika (13 points).
Valpo next plays at home against Ball State on Nov. 27, while BYU looks to bounce back against Utah Valley on Nov. 26.