First-place Cru­saders hold on to beat Flames

Post-Tribune - - Post-Tribune Sports - BY MICHAEL OSIPOFF 713-2485 or mosipoff@post-trib.com Twit­ter: @MichaelOsipoff

CHICAGO — For much of Satur­day’s game at the UIC Pav­il­ion, Val­paraiso ap­peared to be on its way to an­other blowout, sim­ply over­match­ing an­other op­po­nent. Not so fast. The ex­pe­ri­ence proved to be more har­row­ing for the Cru­saders, who still emerged with a 70-65 win over the Flames.

And they emerged in a tie atop the Hori­zon League stand­ings. Val­paraiso (20-4, 7-2), Cleve­land State (7-2), Green Bay (6-2) and Oak­land (5-2) all have two con­fer­ence losses, af­ter the Vik­ings beat the Phoenix ear­lier on Satur­day.

To be in that po­si­tion, there were sev­eral he­roes for the Cru­saders, who held on af­ter build­ing an 18-point lead and with­stand­ing a ca­reer-high 28 points from UIC’s Ah­man Fells. Among that group, Tevonn Walker re­cov­ered from turn­ing his left an­kle to throw down a high­light-reel fol­low dunk and add a steal in rapid suc­ces­sion; Darien Walker snag­ging a ca­reer-high 12 re­bounds, in­clud­ing a key of­fen­sive board; Alec Peters hit­ting key shots on his way to a team-high 19 points; and Vashil Fer­nan­dez set­ting the school record for blocked shots in a sea­son.

“Any time you go on the road, it’s im­por­tant to get a win, es­pe­cially since we’re play­ing teams a sec­ond time around,” Peters said.

The Cru­saders led 45-27 when Darien Walker scored with 18:16 left in the game, and seemed to be in to­tal con­trol of their 13th straight win against UIC. But the Flames (5-18, 1-7), who suf­fered their sev­enth straight loss, im­prob­a­bly climbed back into the game, closing to 61-60 with 3:47 left on a drive by Paris Burns (14 points).

Af­ter E. Vic­tor Nick­er­son made two free throws with 2:38 left, Tevonn Walker (14 points) soared over a crowd of team­mates and op­po­nents alike to dunk a miss by Peters (8-of-15 shoot­ing, 3-of-7 on three-point­ers) with 1:39 left, mak­ing it 65-60. Four sec­onds later, he hit two free throws af­ter com­ing up with a steal.

“I just wanted to get it (his an­kle) re­taped, and come back and play,” said Tevonn Walker, adding he was just try­ing to get a re­bound on the dunk. “I wanted to help my team, and do what I could to help us get a win. I was able to do that.”

Walker had rolled his left an­kle when, com­ing off a screen, he stepped on a UIC player’s foot with 3:30 left in the first half. He needed as­sis­tance off the court, and headed to the locker room. He tested the an­kle be­fore the start of the sec­ond half, when he wound up play­ing 18 of his 30 min­utes.

“Our play­ers are tough,” Cru­saders coach Bryce Drew said. “A lot of play­ers may not have tried to come back and play in the sec­ond half. Not only did he play, but he made huge plays to help us win that game. I know he’s go­ing to be sore, we’ll re­hab it right away.”

Burns made a three-pointer to cut Val­paraiso’s lead to 6763, and af­ter Fer­nan­dez missed an ill-ad­vised put­back, Ja­son McClel­lan made two free throws to make it 67-65 with 30.3 sec­onds left.

Darien Walker (11 points) was fouled, hit­ting the first free throw and miss­ing the sec­ond, track­ing down the re­bound prac­ti­cally un­touched. Tevonn Walker then was fouled with 15.9 sec­onds left, miss­ing the first free throw and mak­ing the sec­ond, all but seal­ing the win for the Cru­saders.

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