VALPARAISO, Ind. (Nov. 14, 2014) – The ETSU men’s basketball team made it interesting, but timely long-range shots by Valparaiso in the closing minutes were the difference as the Crusaders took a 90-76 non-conference win over the Buccaneers in the regular season opener for both schools Friday night inside the Athletics-Recreation Center.
After cutting a 13-point Crusaders’ lead to just two at 66-64 with 6:45 remaining in the game, the Bucs looked on as Valpo hit a pair of long-range 3-pointers to cushion their advantage and hold on for the victory. While ETSU played well offensively, the Bucs’ defense allowed the Crusaders to shoot 50 percent from the floor, 56 percent from 3-point range and gave up 90 points on the night.
“I am proud of our team and thought we competed, but in that final stretch at the end it just got away from us,” said ETSU head coach Murry Bartow, whose team was outscored 24-12 over the final six minutes of play.
The Bucs were led by a game-high 27 points from senior guard Jalen Riley (Racine, Wis.), who was playing in front of several friends and family that made the trip to Valparaiso from Wisconsin. Along with Riley’s effort, ETSU got double-figure scoring nights from sophomore guard A.J. Merriweather (Jackson) and junior forward Lester Wilson (Knoxville), who finished with 12 and 10 points, respectively.
Meanwhile, fellow senior guard and preseason All Southern Conference selection Rashawn Rembert (Tampa, Fla.) struggled in the opener, netting just seven points on 3-of-11 shooting from the floor and a 0-of-6 clip from 3-point range.
For Valpo, forward Alec Peters matched Riley with a game-high 27 points, while guard Darian Walker also netted 20 points and fellow guard Tevonn Walker pitched in 16. Forward David Skara also came off the bench to net 11.
The first half was a back-and-forth battle most of the way, with neither team holding an advantage of more than three points over the first 17 minutes of game play. The lead changed 15 times during that stretch, but unfortunately for the Bucs the final three minutes of the first half did not go well.
Leading 35-34 with 2:39 left before the intermission, the Crusaders got a 3-pointer from Darian Walker with 2:24 on the clock, sparking an 7-0 run to end the half and give Valpo a 42-34 lead at the break. Walker finished the first half with four makes from beyond the arc and 14 total points, while Peters had a game-high 15 points before the intermission.
Before the break, both teams played well offensively, with ETSU shooting 45 percent from the floor and Valpo hitting on 44 percent of its attempts. On the boards, the undersized Bucs held their own and were outrebounded by just a 21-18 clip.
After the break, the Bucs fell behind by as many as 13 points at 62-49, but Bartow changed up the ETSU defense and began to utilize the team’s full-court press, helping to manufacture a 15-4 offensive run that made it 66-64. However, at that point Peters hit a pair of 3-pointers to ignite the Crusaders offense once again and edge back out to a 78-69 lead. ETSU never threatened again.
For the game, the Bucs committed just seven turnovers, but were outrebounded 42-32. In addition, Valpo held a significant edge at the foul line, going 28-of-43 at the charity stripe compared to the Bucs’ 14-of-23 shots at the line.
The Bucs will return home on Tuesday night, Nov. 18 to take on Virginia-Wise in the regular season home opener at Freedom Hall. For more on ETSU men’s basketball throughout the 2014-15 season, visit ETSUBucs.com and click on the men’s hoops link.