VALPARAISO, Ind. (AP) — Alec Peters and Valparaiso did not shrink from the challenge, Tuesday night.
With No. 21 Rhode Island storming back in the final seconds, Valpo’s leading scorer came up big on the defensive end. Peters got a piece of Jarvis Garrett’s potential game-tying 3-pointer with two seconds to play, and Valparaiso held off the Rams, 65-62.
Peters also did it on offense, as usual for Valpo. Fourth in the nation in scoring at just over 25 points per game, Peters scored 27 points to go with nine rebounds, finished 10 of 10 from the free throw line, and scored on three straight possessions down the stretch.
“We always talk about not shying away from the moment and it’s very evident that Alec wants the ball in those moments,” said Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich. “I’m happy he’s on our side.”
The win snapped a streak of 40 straight Valpo losses to ranked teams, dating back to the Crusaders’ upset over Ole Miss in the 1998 NCAA tournament.
“This is pretty big… Definitely top five,” Peters said when asked to rank this win in his career. “We’ve still got some big games ahead of us and I’m very confident that we can win some bigger ones.”
Jubril Adekoya chipped in 13 points and Tevonn Walker had 10 for the Crusaders (7-1), who will take more than a week off before a trip to face No. 1 Kentucky in Lexington.
Jared Terrell scored 21 points for Rhode Island (5-2) in the Rams’ first true road game of the season. Hassan Martin added 16 points and six rebounds.
“These are the type of game that expose the things you need to work on and get better at,” said Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley. “They also prepare you for the rigors of conference play. That was a conference-type game, semi-final of a conference championship intensity in that game.”
Consecutive URI buckets cut Valpo’s lead to 64-62 with 20 seconds left. After Shane Hammink missed a layup, the Rams went to the free throw line with a chance to tie the game, but Martin missed, and Adekoya hit one of two foul shots at the other end to put Valpo up three with 11 seconds to play, setting up the final play.
With 13:50 to go following a technical foul on Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley, Peters knocked down both free throws and Max Joseph hit a layup to give the Crusaders their largest lead, 43-38, since the early minutes of the game.
After the Rams cut it to one, Valpo scored the next seven, a run capped by Adekoya’s three-point play to push the lead to 50-42 with 8:58 to play.
“We always talk about being resilient,” Lottich said. “Our guys just continued to push the envelope, continued to play aggressive.”
Rhode Island moved up two spots to 21 in the AP poll this week and has been ranked for four consecutive weeks, the second-longest stretch in program history, a streak now in jeopardy, while Valpo will try again to play giant killer against Kentucky next week.
Hurley pointed to what this game could do for his team’s NCAA resume, despite the loss.
“These are great wins for your postseason resume, and they’re probably not bad losses, either,” Hurley said. “I think we’ll both have good numbers at the end of the year if we both do what we’re supposed to do.”
Rhode Island: The Rams failed to avenge a 58-55 home loss to Valpo last season.
Valparaiso: Coming off a program-best 30 wins last season, the Crusaders matched their best eight-game start in the last 70 years, and improved to 4-1 all-time against Rhode Island.
Rhode Island: The Rams stay on the road to play to try and avenge another narrow loss last year when they visit in-state rival Providence College on Saturday.
Valparaiso: The Crusaders are off eight days before traveling to Lexington to face No. 1 Kentucky next Wednesday.
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