Valpo Knocks Off Men's Basketball in LVI Finals

LAS VEGAS – Demond Watt scored 14 points and grabbed nine rebounds, but Valparaiso got 18 points from Cory Johnson to take a 68-62 victory over the Texas A&M – Corpus Christi men's basketball team in the finals of the upper bracket of the iBN Las Vegas Invitational. Justin Reynolds added 13 points for the Islanders (2-5) in a losing effort.

Valpo (4-2) got off to a quick start, jumping out to an 11-4 lead at the 13:55 mark. But the Islanders defense picked it up, and held the Crusaders scoreless for the next five minutes and went on an 8-0 run featuring three-balls from Jawan Nelson and Jaamon Echols. Johnson then took control for VU, scoring nine of the next 11 points to help the Crusaders to a 22-18 advantage.

Terence Jones hit a pair of threes over the final four-plus minutes to send the Islanders into the locker room down just one at 27-26. Valpo was only able to muster one field goal over the last 6:55, but scored seven points at the foul line over that stretch to maintain the lead. Jones' second triple of the half came just before the buzzer, his second halftime buzzer-beating trey this year (Oklahoma State, Nov. 17). The Baltimore native finished with a season-best five assists to just one turnover in the game.

The two teams went tit-for-tat out of the locker room, with a Reynolds jumper tying the score 32-32. But the Crusaders came out of the break red hot from the field, burying their first four shots, and ran off a 16-6 rally to gain a 48-38 edge with 10:39 remaining in the second half. The Islanders ran off a 6-0 run to trim it to a 48-44 game, but Valpo parried that with a 5-0 run of its own to make the score 53-44.

Watt went on a 6-0 run of his own at that juncture to trim it to a three-point game, including a clutch three-point play, and Valpo and the Islanders traded buckets with the score sitting at 55-52. Valparaiso scored the next three points to make it 58-52, but Texas A&M – Corpus Christi then netted the next five points, including two off a Garland Judkins steal in pressure, to make it a one-point game at 58-57.

Valpo broke the Islanders press, though, with Matt Kenney getting a breakaway dunk, and that set off an 8-0 run to make it 66-57. The Islanders rallied to score five straight points under pressure, all by Reynolds, but the Crusaders were able to fight through the Texas A&M – Corpus Christi press to hit a pair of free throws, and the Islanders were unable to hit their final shot to result in the final score. Valpo was clutch at the stripe down the stretch, hitting their last 10 shots at the line to salt away the game.

The Islanders have now finished their 5,000-mile, five-day road trip, and will return to Corpus Christi for a Wednesday, Dec. 1, matchup against St. Edward's. Game time is slated for 7 p.m. at the American Bank Center.