2019-20 Men’s Basketball Game Notes: Valparaiso (16-15, 9-9 MVC) vs. Evansville (9-22, 0-18 MVC)

2019-20 Men’s Basketball Game Notes: Valparaiso (16-15, 9-9 MVC) vs. Evansville (9-22, 0-18 MVC)
By: Valparaiso University Last Updated: March 3, 2020

Next Up in Valpo Basketball

After finishing tied for sixth in the regular-season standings and posting its first Missouri Valley Conference record of .500 or better since joining the league, the Valparaiso University men’s basketball team will open Arch Madness by battling Evansville on Thursday night in St. Louis. Valpo was edged by Missouri State for the final first-round bye by virtue of the NET tiebreaker. Head coach Matt Lottich’s young team (nine of 14 players made their Valpo debuts this season) played its best basketball of the season down the stretch, winning four of five before dropping the regular-season finale at Indiana State with leading scorer Javon Freeman-Liberty sidelined by an illness.

Last Time Out

Going on the road to knock off an Indiana State team that had dropped one home game all season without star sophomore Javon FreemanLiberty was too tall of a task in a 71-58 defeat in the Feb. 29 regular-season finale. Valpo received double-figure efforts from Donovan Clay (11), Daniel Sackey (11) and Ryan Fazekas (10), but the guests never led and trailed by as many as 18 in the contest.

Following Valpo Basketball

  • Television – MVC TV Network (NBC Sports Chicago, FOX Sports Midwest, FOX Sports Indiana, FOX Sports Kansas City) – John Rooney (play-by-play), Rich Zvosec (analyst) Scott Warmann (host) and Tom Ackerman (sideline)
  • Video – ESPN+ (blacked out in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska)
  • Radio – WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso) – Todd Ickow (play-by-play) and Paul Oren (analyst); KTRS (550 AM St. Louis) – Brendan Wiese (play-by-play) and Kevin Lehman (analyst)
  • Twitter updates - @ValpoBasketball Links for the audio and live stats will be available at ValpoAthletics.com.

Head Coach Matt Lottich

Matt Lottich (70-59) is in his seventh season overall at Valpo and fourth as head coach in 2019-20. Lottich led the team to 15 victories in his third season in charge in 2018-19, the program’s second campaign in the Missouri Valley Conference. In his first year as head coach (2016-17), Lottich guided Valpo to its fifth Horizon League regular season championship in a six-year span as he led the team to 24 wins and an at-large berth into the NIT. Lottich, hired as the 22nd head coach of the Valpo men’s basketball program in April 2016, graduated from Stanford University in 2004 and New Trier High School (Illinois) in 2000.

Series Notes

Valpo improved to 19-70 all-time against the Purple Aces by sweeping the regular-season series with a pair of tight victories. Valpo snapped a skid of 22 consecutive defeats in games played at Evansville by edging UE 81-79 in overtime on Jan. 4 at the Ford Center. In addition to becoming the first Valpo team to win in Evansville since 1969, Valpo secured its first win over the Aces since joining The Valley and ended a five-game head-to-head losing streak. Valpo has defeated Evansville in back-to-back matchups for the first time since 1952 despite the fact that the two teams have matched up 77 times since. Thursday’s game will mark the second neutral-site meeting between the two teams and first since Nov. 28, 1999 at the Hoop and Quill Classic in St. Charles, Mo., a 71-66 Evansville victory.

Jan. 4: Valpo 81, Evansville 79 (OT)

Javon Freeman-Liberty scored 19 of his team-high 25 points after halftime, leading four Valpo players in double figures at the Ford Center. The Brown & Gold trailed by eight points with under four minutes to play, but rallied to tie the game at 70 and force the extra session. Eron Gordon (11) and Ben Krikke (10) both reached double figures off the bench, while Donovan Clay (10) made it four Valpo players with 10 points or more in the thrilling victory. Valpo was 11-of-11 at the free-throw line until Nick Robinson intentionally missed with 0.2 seconds on the clock in overtime to secure the victory. Valpo had just 10 turnovers against Evansville and made a dozen 3s in the game. Mileek McMillan buried three 3s in just 12 minutes of action before fouling out, and Donovan Clay squeezed a team-high seven rebounds while Nick Robinson dished out seven assists.

Jan. 26: Valpo 67, Evansville 6

A career night from Mileek McMillan that featured 16 points and three blocked shots helped Valpo fend off Evansville 67-65 in the regular-season meeting at the Athletics-Recreation Center. Daniel Sackey and Javon FreemanLiberty joined McMillan in double figures with 12 points apiece on a night where Valpo led by as many as 18 late in the first half before holding on for the wire-to-wire victory despite being outscored 4231 after halftime. McMillan had a critical lead-preserving block in the final minute, while Freeman-Liberty nailed a quartet of late free throws to help ice the triumph.

Stopping the Streak

With Valpo’s 81-79 overtime victory over Evansville on Jan. 4, the team stopped a five-game head-to-head losing streak against the Aces and garnered its first win against Evansville since joining the Missouri Valley Conference (previously 0-4). But most noteworthy of all was the 22-game losing skid in games played at Evansville that came to an end. Matt Lottich became the first Valpo coach to win at Evansville since the legendary Gene Bartow led his team to a 101-95 victory on Feb. 1, 1969. Duringthe years (or more accurately, decades) between those victories, five Valpo coaches went winless in the River City: Bill Purden (0-6), Ken Rochlitz (0-3), Tom Smith (0-5), Homer Drew (0-4) and Bryce Drew (0-1). No member of the Valpo team or coaching staff was alive the last time the program won in Evansville before this year’s trip.

Going for the Season Sweep

  • This marks the 15th time over the last 16 years that Valpo has played a team in a conference tournament after winning both regular-season meetings.
  • The Brown & Gold are 8-6 in the third game in those instances.
  • The last time Valpo had a conference tournament matchup with a team it swept during the regular season was the school’s final year in the Horizon League. After winning both regular-season showdowns, Valpo fell 43-41 to Milwaukee on March 4, 2017 in Detroit.
  • The same thing happened in the 2016 Horizon League Tournament, when Valpo was on the wrong end of a 99-92 overtime score vs. Green Bay in a league semifinal matchup after beating the Phoenix in both regular-season collisions.
  • A win on Thursday would allow Valpo to secure a three-game sweep over a conference opponent for the first time since March 7, 2015, a 60-55 Horizon League semifinal win over Cleveland State at the ARC.
  • On the flip side, Valpo beat Indiana State 77-55 to open Arch Madness last year after going 0-2 in the regular season against the Sycamores.

Valpo in Arch Madness

  • In just its third year as a member of the Missouri Valley Conference, Valpo is 1-2 all-time in the MVC Tournament.
  • The program was the No. 10 seed in 2018 and dropped an openinground matchup 83-79 to Missouri State in its first Arch Madness appearance.
  • Valpo progressed to a No. 9 seed in Year 2 in the Valley and earned its first Arch Madness victory, beating Indiana State 77-55 in the opening round. The team fell 67-54 vs. Loyola in the quarterfinal round a year ago.
  • This year, Valpo is the No. 7 seed after finishing tied for sixth in the conference standings, its best finish since joining The Valley.

Valpo in St. Louis

  • Although Valpo is the new kid on the block when it comes to Arch Madness, the program’s history at the building now known as the Enterprise Center goes beyond the team’s three MVC tournament games over the last two years.
  • Valpo’s Sweet Sixteen game against Rhode Island in 1998 was played at the building, which was then known as the Kiel Center.
  • Valpo also appeared in the 2002 NCAA Tournament in St. Louis, but the first-round date with Kentucky was played at the Edward Jones Dome.
  • Head coach Matt Lottich played at Stanford from 2000-04 and was part of the Cardinal team that participated in the first and second round of the NCAA Tournament at the Edward Jones Dome in 2002. His squad joined Valpo as two of the eight teams competing in St. Louis in the opening round of the tournament that year. Stanford beat Western Kentucky 84-68 in the first round before falling 86-63 to Kansas. Lottich saw action in both contests.

For more information, visit http://www.valpoathletics.com/home/main/ .