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Gorches: Young Crusaders can learn from good losses

Valparaiso University's Lavonte Dority dribbles ball up court during Valparaiso University men's basketball home opener against Murray State held Valparaiso

Valparaiso University's Lavonte Dority dribbles the ball up court during Valparaiso University men's basketball home opener against Murray State held at Valparaiso University on Friday November 8, 2013. | Charles Mitchell/for Sun-Times Media

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For those Valparaiso University basketball fans distraught over a tough 67-65 loss to St. Louis on Saturday, here’s my advice to you: Don’t be.

If there’s any such thing as a good loss, it was that one. The Crusaders had no business being in the game, let alone having a shot at overtime before Mike McCall had a tip-in offensive rebound at the buzzer to save the Billikens from what would have been a disastrous blown lead for them.

Valparaiso’s youth showed once again, with the three freshmen starters combining for seven of the team’s 17 turnovers, 13 of the miscues in the first half.

Guard Lexus Williams really struggled, missing all four of his attempts from the field and only hitting one free throw for a single point, while committing three turnovers in 30 minutes.

Alec Peters fell victim to St. Louis’ tough perimeter defense, going 2-of-7 from the field for five points, but not scoring until midway through the second half.

Jubril Adekoya had a decent game with seven points and three rebounds.

What can be taken from Saturday’s game are three things. First, the youth movement is progressing. Facing a tough defense like St. Louis’ can only help toughen up the kids, and remind the veterans what’s needed to win basketball games.

“They’re a very physical team, but we knew that coming in,” said senior Bobby Capobianco, who had 14 points off the bench, but committed three turnovers, had a rebound taken from his hands and missed a couple free throws. “This is a completely new group, and we just need to improve. St. Louis showed us a lot of things we can work on.”

Second, LaVonte Dority is becoming a go-to player and a leader. The senior guard may look like a little among Valparaiso’s trees ranging from 6-foot-8 to 7-foot, but he’s got big heart and some intestinal fortitude when it comes to hitting big shots. His driving layup with 3.8 seconds left was impressive, especially when he got the ball on the far end with about 11 seconds left and drove the length of the court knowing VU was out of timeouts.

And third, Bryce Drew can really coach.

That’s likely not a surprise to most, but I attribute most of the comeback to Drew’s coaching and motivation. He needs to coach it up with such an inexperienced squad, and it showed Saturday night. Maybe he shouldn’t have used his last timeout with 1:48 left, but he needed every one of them to keep the Crusaders in the game.

“Every game we’ve played, we’ve gotten better,” Drew said.

Of course, Drew gave credit to the players for cutting down on the turnovers in the second half. I say the credit goes to him for pushing, prodding, pleading and persuading his players to stop giving up the ball.

Turnovers are a product of having so many freshmen in key roles, but the reality is that if Valparaiso just cut down the mistakes by a third, its record would be 11-0 instead of 6-5. I know, I know … if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, blah, blah, blah … but all of VU’s losses were winnable, including road losses at Illinois, Evansville and Ohio.

But they could turn out to be good losses as long as the freshmen keep listening to Drew and learn to value every possession. Then, it could be a very surprisingly good Horizon League campaign.



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