By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer
Poor defense and even poorer shooting proved to be the downfall for the Colonels Saturday as Valparaiso cruised to an 82-60 win at home in a nationally-televised BracketBuster match-up.
The Crusaders shot a blistering 68 percent from the floor, while EKU only managed to hit 33 percent — the team’s worst shooting performance of the year.
The Colonels got off to a cold start as Valpo raced out to an 11-2 lead three minutes into the game.
After a timeout, EKU regrouped and went on an 11-2 run of its own on the strength of three pointers by Mike DiNunno, Jeff Johnson and Corey Walden to tie the game at 13-13.
The Crusaders once again edged out in front by seven (24-17) but the Colonels fought back to pull to within one at 24-23 on a basket by Glenn Cosey and a three pointer and free throw by Timmy Knipp.
After a technical foul on Valpo’s Matt Kenney, DiNunno gave the Colonels their only lead of the game at 26-25.
But from that point on, the Crusaders scored 10 straight and 15 of the final 17 points of the half to take a 39-29 lead into the lockerroom.
The second half was all Valparaiso.
The Crusaders’ four-guard lineup created nightmares for the Colonels defense, continually driving for baskets or hitting open outside shooters while the Colonels shooters, other than Walden, were uncharacteristically cold.
“They put four small guys out there on the court and really spread us out ... and really put us in scramble situations quite a bit. They just drove us to death,” EKU coach Jeff Neubauer said in a radio interview. “They beat us north and south, meaning we did not guard one-on-one. Our guys did not do a great job with the help-side defense today. Valpo is a very good team. However we did not guard well enough here today.”
Walden was the lone bright spot for the Colonels’ offense, scoring a game-high 20 points on seven-of-13 from the field and three-of-five from behind the three point line.
But the Colonels and their fans got a real scare when Walden crumpled to the floor holding his left knee and had to be helped off the floor with just less than 10 minutes left in the game.
The extent of Walden’s injury was not known immediately after the game.
“I don’t know yet. I think he is going to be fine, but let me check with Jake, our trainer before I give you a report,” Neubauer said. “He was the one that had the matchup advantage and in addition to taking advantage of the matchup, he hit some really tough shots. Corey is getting better and better, game-by-game and I’m sure he will be back out there on Thursday.”
Although he struggled with his shooting most of the day, DiNunno still finished with 19 points, while Eric Stutz added 10 points and five rebounds.
The Colonels close out the season next week with two road games, beginning with Tennessee Tech at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, followed by a March 2 matchup with Tennessee State in Nashville.
The OVC Tournament begins on March 6 in Nashville. The Colonels have secured a first-round bye and will play on Thursday, March 7.
Neubauer said the Colonels have some work to do between now and tournament time if they are going to accomplish their goals.
“We have to find the right response to the loss. This is not who we want to be. If we give up 68 percent from the field, then that is not going to be successful for us against anybody we play,” Neubauer said. “Talking about us being a great defensive team, it can’t be against certain teams and not against others. It’s got to be consistent. If we don’t guard, we are not going to win.”