Valpo Fends Off Evansville Surge for Home Victory
On a night where Mileek McMillan (Merrillville, Ind. / Merrillville) played perhaps his best game in a college uniform, it seemed only fitting that the Valparaiso University men’s basketball junior would make the biggest play of the day.
With Valpo clinging to a 63-61 lead over Evansville and only 35 seconds remaining, McMillan recorded a rejection to keep his team in front. That play proved pivotal in Valpo’s 67-65 triumph on Sunday afternoon at the Athletics-Recreation Center and helped McMillan cap a career showing that also saw him equal a personal best with 16 points.
How It Happened
- Sophomore guard Daniel Sackey (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada / Thornlea) had a nice burst early, drilling a trey to open the scoring before knocking down a pair of free throws to make it 7-2 Valpo with two and a half minutes elapsed. He hit another 3 at the 11:03 mark, scoring eight of his team’s first 19 points to help the Brown and Gold to a 19-11 edge.
- Valpo went on a 13-0 run from the 11:29 mark of the first half to the 5:12 mark, holding the Purple Aces (9-12, 0-8 MVC) off the scoreboard for six minutes, 17 seconds. A triple by McMillan capped the burst and made it 29-11 Valpo with 5:38 to go in the half. That 18-point lead would stand as Valpo’s largest of the game.
- The Aces chipped into the large deficit in the closing minutes of the first half to tighten the gap to 10, but Ryan Fazekas (Chesterton, Ind. / Marquette Catholic [Providence] hit a key 3 going into halftime to boost it back to 13 at 36-23.
- When Noah Frederking knocked in a 3 with 12:53 left in the second half, Evansville shrunk the lead to single digits for the first time after halftime at 45-38. The Aces closed to within five at 54-49 on a 3 by Artur Labinowicz with 8:36 on the clock. Valpo had the lead back up to double figures with four minutes to go after Sackey finished a fastbreak layup.
- Valpo was held off the scoreboard for 2:30 late in the second half, allowing Evansville to post a seven-point run and shrink the lead all the way down to two at 63-61 with 1:08 remaining. Javon Freeman-Liberty (Chicago, Ill. / Whitney Young) stepped up and hit four vital free throws down the stretch, helping Valpo put the finishing touches on the two-point win.
Inside the Game
- McMillan reached 16 points for the second time in his career, matching his personal best set on Nov. 17 of this season vs. North Dakota. He equaled a career high with three blocks, a mark also reached on Dec. 30 this season vs. Loyola.
- McMillan, who enjoyed a plus-minus of +12 to lead the team on Sunday, has scored in double figures in four straight games after previously scoring 10 points or more in just three of his first 16 contests. He’s averaging 12.5 points per game over his last four outings.
- Freeman-Liberty scored in double figures for the 21st straight game, finishing with 12 points. He did the bulk of his damage at the foul line, where he was 8-of-11. That set a career high for made free throws with eight, besting his previous mark of seven set in Valpo’s last home game, Jan. 18 vs. Indiana State. He joined Nick Robinson (Nov. 12 at SIUE) as the only Valpo players with eight made free throws in a game this season.
- Sackey scored 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting. He hit double figures for the third straight game and had his highest scoring output since scoring 12 vs. Grand Canyon back on Nov. 22.
- Freeman-Liberty and Donovan Clay (Alton, Ill. / Alton) had seven rebounds apiece to lead the team, while Freeman-Liberty handed out a team-best four assists. It was the fifth time in conference play Clay has held or shared the team lead in rebounding after he did so just once during the nonconference season (Nov. 27 vs. Trinity Christian).
- Valpo improved to 7-1 at home this season while also securing the season sweep over Evansville. Both meetings between the two teams were decided by two-point margins, as Valpo won 81-79 in overtime at the Ford Center on Jan. 4.
- Valpo improved to 3-0 this season in games decided by two points or fewer – the two wins over Evansville and the 79-77 victory over Toledo to open the season. Valpo has played eight games this season (5-3) dictated by five points or fewer.
- That marked the fifth time this season and third in MVC play Valpo has held the opponent to 65 points or fewer. The 67 points were the second-fewest Valpo has scored in a victory this season, behind 66 vs. Drake.
Valpo (11-10, 4-4) will hit the road to face off with Bradley on Wednesday night in Peoria. The tip is set for 6 p.m. with the broadcast available on ESPN+.