After a lengthy month of conference play, Valparaiso opened up February with a win backed by a talented bench. Valpo was able to outscore Illinois State 36-13 in points off the bench and freshman forward Ben Krikke the leader for Valparaiso in that category. He was one of seven players that scored seven or more points that night.
“He was huge for us. I thought he really took advantage of what they were trying to do defensively with switching. He scored some huge baskets for us,” said Head Coach Matt Lottich.
Krikke’s 17 points, eight rebounds, and four assists helped lead the team past the Redbirds. He shot 6-8 from the field and 5-9 from the free throw line. He also led the team in all three of those categories. This game against the Redbirds was his highest scoring game against a Division I team. His heroics helped Valpo wrap up the first act of conference play with a final score of 80-70.
Valpo’s turning point didn’t come until the middle of the first half. With 10 minutes left to go, the Redbirds received a technical foul for a small verbal argument that occurred on the court. Two free throws were awarded to both junior guard Zion Morgan and Krikke each, which gave Valpo the lead at 15-13. Valpo made 11 of their 17 free throws in the first half alone, which mattered since the point difference came down to single digits.
Fazekas continued to prove his worth inside and outside the arc. Fazekas was given the start against the Redbirds. In the first half alone, he helped either extend leads or shorten deficits for Valpo. With 50 seconds to go, Fazekas drained a three pointer off the outside left off the assist by Robinson to extend the lead to nine. Fazekas shot eight points and made both of his shots from the field, both of his free throws, and chipped in two of his four free throw attempts.
“It felt good, but it was just another day. Just gotta go out there and do our assignments. Doesn’t matter if I come off the bench or start, [I] gotta play hard,” Fazekas said.
Valpo ended the first half at 34-28 after Illinois State made a couple of their own free throws.
Valpo and Illinois State exchanged the lead a couple of times in the first four minutes. It would be sophomore guard Javon Freeman-Liberty’s fast break layup that would restart the momentum and tie the game up at 43. Freshman guard Donovan Clay followed up with a steal off the fast break to chip in a layup to gain and keep the lead.
“They hit three three’s to start the half and took the lead. It definitely wasn’t the way we wanted to start the half. But we were able to get into transition. I thought it just got us going and comfortable again, and we were able to build the lead again,” Lottich said.
Valpo’s lead went into double digits when sophomore guard Daniel Sackey hit his second free throw on the charity line. The lead would stretch as far as 14 when Freeman-Liberty hit his own free throw with 92 seconds to go. The rest of the game was kept and claimed by Valpo.
Krikke had help behind him. Clay and Freeman-Liberty both scored 12 points each for Valpo. Freeman-Liberty also had seven rebounds, three assists, and two steals. Clay had six rebounds, two blocks, and a steal.
After Wednesday’s home loss against the University of Northern Iowa, Valpo has seven more conference games to play before heading to the MVC Arch Madness tournament. Valpo will begin this seven game stretch on the road to play Loyola Chicago on Sunday, Feb. 9 at 3p.m.