LAS VEGAS – Last March, Valparaiso withstood a strong first half from BYU and a last-second 3-pointer to defeat the Cougars in the semifinals of the NIT. Eight months later, the two teams met again, with the same script being written as the Crusaders beat BYU 92-89 in the finals of the “Men Who Speak Up Main Event” Wednesday night at the MGM Grand.
The Cougars led by as many as 12 in the first half, then trailed by as many as eight in the second before closing the gap late. Valparaiso’s Tevonn Walker broke an 85-85 tie with a corner 3-pointer with 2:02 to play. BYU twice pulled to within one, but never did regain the lead. Eric Mika’s desperation 3 from the baseline at the buzzer was long.
Behind the hot shooting of Nick Emery and TJ Haws, the Cougars led by a dozen in the first half. But BYU’s troubles began midway through the half when starting post players Mika and Kyle Davis were each called for their second personal fouls. The two bigs sat down and Valparaiso began to make hay.
A Haws layup made it 38-30 with 4:15 left in the first half, but the Crusaders closed the half on a 14-8 run to close within 46-44 at intermission.
Behind forward Alec Peters, the Crusaders pulled out to an eight-point lead at 82-74 after a pair of Shane Hammink free throws with 5:29 left in the game. But BYU tied it up by going on an 8-0 run over the next 1:29 with Emery getting a steal and a transition 3-pointer to cap the run.
After another Hammink free throw, BYU had a brief lead when Davin Guinn hit a 3-pointer from the left corner to make it 85-83. Hammink then got free for a lefty layup to tie the game and set up the final two minutes.
Emery, who has struggled with his shooting touch early this season, made just 5 of 16 shots in the game, though he was 4 for 8 from 3-point territory. he led the Cougars with 18 points, while Haws had 15 and Mika chipped in 13 in limited minutes. Mika logged just 19 minutes on the floor, picking up his fourth personal with 16:28 left on the game.
Valparaiso had a field day on the boards with the BYU big men in foul trouble and ended up out-rebounding the Cougars 42-33, including 13 offensive boards.
Guin finished with 11 points off the bench, with BYU staying in the game with good 3-point shooting (10 for 22) and excellent free throw shooting (27-32, 84 percent).
Peters led Valpo with 26 points, including a key contested layup with under a minute to go, while Hammink chipped in 23 and Walker had 13. Peters also had 12 rebounds.
The Cougars, 4-1, continue their preseason slate with a home game against Utah Valley University Saturday at 4 p.m., then a neutral site game Wednesday at 7 p.m. against Utah State in Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City. That game is one of three BYU will play in NBA arenas – the Cougars play USC at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Dec. 3 and Illinois at the United Center in Chicago on Dec. 17.
Valparaiso, 5-1, is home for Ball State Friday afternoon. The Crusaders are 3-1 all-time vs. BYU.
Stats: Valparaiso 92, BYU 89
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