For 1,637 eager Valpo basketball fans, Christmas came early with an exhibition game against Cedarville University, which was scheduled for 13 days earlier than the year prior. For head coach Matt Lottich and his players, a hard fought win on both sides of the court was the only present they asked for.
“I was pleased with the overall effort. There are some things we have to work on; there’s no doubt about it. This is probably the earliest we’ve ever had an exhibition game. We were young at times, but the effort was always there,” Lottich said. “One of the things I really enjoy about this group is that I don’t ever have to coach effort, enthusiasm or competitiveness. It’s just a given. We played well enough tonight to beat a really good team that is going to win a lot of games. I was proud of the effort,” said Lottich.
Most of the stretches and stops up and down the court gave Valpo the lead for much of the game. The lead only would accumulate as the game progressed, averaging double digit leads over Cedarville throughout regulation. As the second half ended, Valpo would top Cedarville 85-65.
The game ultimately ended up in the hands of Valparaiso within the first minute of the opening half. Senior guard John Kiser started the pressure by winning the jump ball. After a missed three point shot by sophomore guard Javon Freeman-Liberty, returning junior Nick Robinson grabbed the offensive rebound and made a layup. After Kiser fouled and Cedarville made their free throws, Freeman bounced back with another layup in the paint. Cedarville followed up with a jumpshot to tie up. Fifth year senior Ryan Fazekas recaptured the lead with a three point jump shot.
The team had five slam dunks during the game. Three started off as steals, the other two from defensive rebounds. Kiser dropped the first slam from a steal assist from Robinson. Sophomore guard Daniel Sackey passed the rebound to Freeman-Liberty for a fast break dunk in the paint. Two minutes later, Freeman dropped an unassisted dunk. In the second half, Sackey connected another rebound assist to give Freeman-Liberty another slam. Junior transfer Zion Morgan scored his first Valparaiso basket with an unassisted dunk from a steal.
Out of Valpo's 85 points, 33 of them were scored by five players coming off the bench. Freshman guard Sigurd Lorange shot 10 points, shooting fifty percent from the field and making two three-pointers. Senior guard Eron Gordon, who became eligible to play this season after transferring in prior to last season, scored nine points in his debut for Valparaiso. Freshman guard Donovan Clay and freshman forward Emil Freese-Vilien also played their first game in the ARC, combining for 12 points.
“I felt really good, especially to get out there with my brothers. Overall, I just feel like we got the win and we all did it together,” Freeman said.
Fazekas stepped up with 11 points and five rebounds. He made three of his shots within the field and dominated the perimeter with three three pointers. Last season, Fazekas missed nine games due to injury. This year, he hopes to utilize his experience and help the new freshmen become more assimilated to the program and its competitive standards.
“I know how they are feeling right now. They are a little nervous coming into these first games, so it always helps talking to them. Just talk them through our defensive principles because it is a lot of adjustments, and they got to take it all in. But I am excited to bring my experience in to this team. It is going to be a fun year,” Fazekas said.
With a few weeks to go, Valparaiso’s season debut is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 25 against Toledo in the ARC. Game tips off at 7p.m.