If you asked anyone how Valpo secured the home opener, the answer would be sophomore guard Javon Freeman-Liberty. His jump shot from the left elbow snapped the tie with four seconds left on the shot clock securing a win, 79-77.
“During the last timeout, I just said: ‘Throw the shot in,’” said Head Coach Matt Lottich. “I didn’t know who was going to shoot it, but Javon got a good look and made it. I was really impressed with the way our defense played at the end because there were still four seconds left. Daniel picked up the ball and didn’t let them get a three off. It was a great win.”
The first half started out slow for Valpo on both sides of the court. Less than two minutes into the game, Toledo scored nine points in a row and would go on to score another 10 points lead Valpo by 14 points.
Fifth-year senior Ryan Fazekas would answer the call first for Valpo with a fast break lay-up in the paint. Freeman-Liberty chimed in next with a layup of his own to shorten the deficit to seven.
Valpo was able to catch up as the first half continued. Senior guard John Kiser evened the score with a layup and an assist from sophomore guard Daniel Sackey.
In the last minute, freshman center Emil Freese-Vilien became a vital asset under the rim offensively. Freese-Vilien would score with two slam dunks in under a minute to end the first half on top with 39-35.
“Emil has been putting in hard work every single day. It’s not a surprise. You see the baskets, but I see the defense. I see him not messing up rotations and taking the challenge of guarding a heck of a player–their center–and doing a great job on him,” Lottich said. “Everyone has confidence in him, from the coaching staff to the players. It was great to see him play well.”
The lead was in Valpo’s hands for the majority of the second half. However, in the last 31 seconds, Toledo drained a three-pointer which shortened Valpo’s lead to three points.
Senior forward Nick Robinson responded with a half-court pass to Freeman-Liberty giving him an unanswered fast-break dunk. Robinson made his debut after not being able to play due to him transferring in last season.
“Because we have played so many scrimmages, I felt like this wasn’t my first game back. I was just really happy to play the game that I love and get a chance to do that,” Robinson said.
Hearts began to race when Toledo was able to draw a foul on Sackey. Two free throws later, both teams were tied again at 77-77 with 13 seconds left to go.
Sackey passed the ball in to Freeman-Liberty, who calmly dribbled down court with the clock winding down. At four seconds, he made a 15 foot jump shot through the defense. With four seconds left, Toledo ran down court hoping to hit a three pointer, but Valpo was able to block the shot and run the clock.