The ARC morphed into a heavyweight boxing arena Sunday as Valparaiso and Oakland battled for positioning in the Horizon League standings. The lead changed 16 times, and each swap came in the middle of the second half. The Crusaders were able to get the last punch and fought off the Golden Grizzlies 82-76.
It took all of Valparaiso’s eight-man rotation to take down Oakland (12-13, 7-3 Horizon).
Sophomore forward Alec Peters was limited to four shots but hit the biggest of the game for Valparaiso (22-4, 9-2). With 2:27 to go, Peters drained a 3-pointer to push the Crusaders’ lead to six points. He also hit two big free throws to make the score 80-74 with 37 seconds left, which sealed the fate for Oakland.
“Our goal was to front Alec Peters and Tevonn Walker,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. “We dared somebody else to beat us. We forgot Peters on one play in transition and he hit the shot. That was his first three-point attempt of the game and he hit it. That was a championship shot for Valpo. Joe Average wouldn’t hit that shot.”
It was night and day performance for Peters as he only scored seven points in their first meeting with the Golden Grizzlies, an 89-75 overtime loss in Rochester.
“It was a satisfying win,” Peters said. “It was good to get a home win against this team. We lost to them last time and that was on our minds.”
The Crusaders also needed senior center Vashil Fernandez, who pieced together a complete game. The Jamaica native went 5-of-5 from the field, finished with 11 points and bothered shots by Oakland star Kahlil Felder, who had 20 points and 7 assists.
Peters and Fernandez were helped by four other main players as six Crusaders scored in double digits: E.Victor Nickerson (16 points), David Skara (14 points), Darien Walker (13 points) and Tevonn Walker (12 points).
Despite this loss, Oakland remains the surprise of the year in the Horizon League. The Golden Grizzlies were picked to finish in the basement of the conference, and at 7-3 they are in fourth place, and still only 1.5 games out of first.
“It was a great atmosphere out there, almost like a championship atmosphere,” Kampe said. “We made a lot of youthful mistakes and we have to learn from them. I told our guys that we would see this team in the tournament, so we have to learn now. ”
As for the Crusaders, their next game is the biggest one of the year thus far as they will be at home against Green Bay, which sits a half-game back at 8-2 in conference play. The game will be televised on ESPN2.