Whoops and cheers rang from the MGM Grand Garden corridor as the Valparaiso Crusaders took turns taking photos with their newest prize.
The Crusaders had just pulled off a 92-89 victory, dispatching the BYU Cougars on Wednesday night to win the championship game of the Men Who Speak Up Main Event and take home the heavyweight belt.
“It’s big because it’s an opportunity to win a championship; beating Alabama (on Monday 68-60) and now beating BYU. I think those are two tournament teams,” coach Matt Lottich said. “We talked about our end goals and that is getting into the tournament and trying to advance.”
The game, which was close throughout, had somewhat of a postseason feel as the two teams traded blows down the stretch.
BYU had a chance to tie the game at the end, but Eric Mika missed a 3 at the buzzer to seal the Crusaders’ comeback victory.
The Cougars (4-1) were up by as many as 12 points in the first half, but struggled with foul trouble, which kept Mika, their top scorer and rebounder glued to the bench for a significant amount of time.
Mika came in averaging a double-double — 20.8 points and 11.0 rebounds per game — but only played 19 minutes, grabbing three rebounds and scoring 13.
Valparaiso (5-1) had foul trouble of its own, but it didn’t cripple them or affect their ability to attack.
Lottich said he was proud of the way his team approached BYU’s 1-3-1 zone.
“Our guys weren’t tentative. They got into the lane,” Lottich said. “I think that downhill mentality was big for us.”
The Crusaders also outrebounded BYU 42-33 with 13 coming on the offensive boards. Valparaiso also scored 22 points off turnovers.
“Anytime you get easy baskets, it helps,” Lottich said. “We preach rebounding and our guys did that tonight. We haven’t been doing that as well as we would have liked all season but tonight did it well, and did get some easy fastbreak points.”
All five starter for the Crusaders reached double figures.
Alec Peters led the way with a game-high 26 points and 12 rebounds. Shane Hammink added 23, Tevonn Walker finished with 13 and both Lexus Williams and Jubril Adekoya finished with 12.
Nick Emery, with 18 points, led four Cougars who scored in double figures.
Lottich praised his senior leaders, specifically Peters had was vomiting throughout the day.
“That just shows you the heart that he has. … We feed off that. We’ve got a tough group,” Lottich said.