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Valparaiso Holds Off Milwaukee in an Overtime Thriller

A spirited Panther effort comes up short at home against the league leading Crusaders.

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

A wild night in Milwaukee ended in an 80-76 Valparaiso victory. In a first half plagued with 23 fouls combined between both squads, the Milwaukee Panthers clawed their way to a five-point halftime lead. The Panthers were the beneficiaries of 14 made free throws on 20 attempts in the first half. However, despite two early three-pointers from J.J. Panoske, Milwaukee did not find much luck from the perimeter. This kept the door open for the Crusaders who knocked down six threes in the half and received a significant boost from the bench from Darien Walker, who ended the half with 10 points and four rebounds.

Valparaiso quickly erased the halftime deficit upon resuming play. They were able to tie things up at 38 apiece with five quick points from Alec Peters and solid defense, not allowing a Milwaukee score for more than four minutes to begin the second half. Cody Wichmann was able to restart the Milwaukee offense with two three-pointers, but Valparaiso answered back, eventually opening up a four point lead on another Peters three.

Both teams went cold from the field, and the Valparaiso lead remained uncertain. However, with just under five minutes to play, the Crusaders were handed a golden opportunity to seize control of the game. Milwaukee forward Matt Tiby was called for a flagrant foul, sending Valpo's Jubril Adekoya to the free throw line and giving the Crusaders the ball. Adekoya knocked down both free throws for a six-point lead. But, a Peters three rimmed out on the ensuing possession. Rather than the Crusaders having a solid nine point lead, the door was left open, and Milwaukee was able to cut the deficit to just two after free throws from Tiby and Jordan Johnson.

Milwaukee used the new found energy to tie the game with two minutes to play. Shane Hammink for Valparaiso and Akeem Springs for Milwaukee traded baskets, and the game remained tied with a minute to play. Valpo retook the lead with just 42 seconds to play on a Peters shot in the lane. But, the Panthers rushed the ball back up the floor, and Tiby was fouled with 34 seconds remaining. After sinking both free throws, the game was tied once more. Valparaiso couldn't get a shot off in their final possession of regulation as Jordan Johnson forced a turnover and an Akeem Springs floater at the buzzer didn't fall to send the game into overtime.

Overtime began much the same way the rest of the game had gone. Both teams traded baskets and the lead until Vashil Fernandez tallied his only two points of the evening with a dunk to give Valparaiso a two-point lead. Alec Peters followed the effort with another three-pointer and it looked as if Valpo was taking control. In spite of a Panoske three for the Panthers, Valparaiso maintained a four-point lead with 1:29 to play after a pair of Tevonn Walker free throws.

However, a game such as this with so many momentum swings was destined for a higher finish than to have Valpo simply ice the game with free throws. Austin Arians sank his only three of the evening on a heavily contested shot to cut the deficit back to one and then followed up that effort by drawing a charge on the defensive end. The Panthers took advantage of the opportunity to regain the lead with another basket from Tiby, who seemed to be awakened after the flagrant foul was charged to him in the second half.

Not to be outdone, Valparaiso's Keith Carter calmly stepped into a three-pointer coming out of a timeout to finally give the Crusaders the lead for good with 38 seconds to play. Valpo held out for the remaining seconds to claim a hard fought 80-76 victory on the road.

Alec Peters and Matt Tiby led their teams with 23 and 21 points respectively. Darien Walker came up big off the bench for the Crusaders, ending with 15 points and seven rebounds. Milwaukee's Jordan Johnson came up short in his quest for a second consecutive triple-double, finishing with 11 points, six rebounds, and seven assists before fouling out in overtime.

For Valparaiso, the win keeps the slim hope of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament alive. They will likely need a win at Green Bay and a Horizon League semifinal win to have any hopes should they lose in the conference finals. The Crusaders had already clinched the one seed in the Horizon League tournament, so the outcome of this game had little bearing on their conference finish.

As for Milwaukee, the loss locks them in as the five seed in the Horizon League tournament. Next up for the Panthers is the regular season finale against UIC on Sunday.