GORCHES: Valparaiso’s Clay Yeo getting healthy, coming on strong
By Steve T. Gorches 314-3797 or firstname.lastname@example.org February 13, 2014 8:30PM
Valparaiso's Clay Yeo gets ready to take a shot against Oakland during their game held at Valparaiso University on February 10, 2014. | Charles Mitchell/for Sun-Times Media
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Radio: 95.1-FM; 95.9-FM; 1230-AM
The skinny: It’s time to scoreboard watch in the Horizon League, with just five games remaining. But no need for the Crusaders to focus on anything but the opponent at hand since Milwaukee is a game behind Valparaiso (15-11, 7-4), which sits in third place a game behind Cleveland State, which faces first-place Green Bay on Saturday. It all means VU just needs to win and let everything else take care of itself. Milwaukee (16-9, 6-5) is coming off a big win at Green Bay, which opens up first place to multiple teams, including the Crusaders.
Hot-shooting CSU knocks off Valparaiso
For the second game in a row, Valparaiso shot 50 percent from the field, but Cleveland State’s perimeter shooting led the Vikings to an 82-74 win Thursday at the Wolstein Center.
Sharon Karungi had her most efficient game in a Crusaders uniform as the junior posted a career-high 25 points on 12-of-14 shooting. But Cleveland State racked up 17 3-pointers in the win.
— Staff report
Updated: March 15, 2014 6:40AM
Valparaiso freshman Clay Yeo has hit game-winning shots in the final seconds before, and some were pretty important.
“I hit a few in high school — like four or five,” said Yeo, who graduated from Triton High School in Bourbon, a little more than 50 miles to the east of Valparaiso University.
He added that one of them was for the conference title, another for a sectional title, and yet another helped Triton win a regional crown last season when the Trojans reached the Class 1A state championship game.
But Yeo’s 3-pointer with 7.4 seconds left on Sunday to give the Crusaders a 63-60 victory over Oakland has already moved up his list.
“I’d definitely say this one is the most meaningful because it’s come at a higher level,” he said.
We’ll see how truly meaningful it was when the Horizon League Tournament arrives, since the victory could be very important when it comes to seeding.
The shot and Yeo’s effort during the win — 12 points on four 3-pointers made in 25 minutes, as well as pretty good defense on the new NCAA career-leader in 3-pointers made, Travis Bader — may come as a surprise to fans and pundits, but not the coaching staff that has seen the freshman improve despite multiple setbacks.
“Clay’s played well. It’s just been his health,” Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew said. “It’s been about him gaining confidence in practice and building endurance.”
Yeo’s ailments and injuries include rolling both ankles, a fracture in the bottom of his foot, and an illness.
“The atmosphere here, competing hard every day, takes a bigger toll,” Yeo said. “Early on I wasn’t used to Division-I basketball and was drained every day.”
In the previous 10 Horizon League games, Yeo played 37 combined minutes before getting his number called by Drew in a meeting the day before Sunday’s Oakland game. One change Yeo has made to deal with the tough D-I schedule is eating healthier.
“We tried to help him with his diet,” Drew said. “I don’t know what he was eating exactly, but it wasn’t good.”
With the roster turnover coming into this season, Yeo was in Drew’s rotation plans. Several different lineups were used early in the season before a set group of starters for the most part has been used in Horizon League play. The bench rotation has been fluid, but Yeo was on the list until the injuries hindered his progress.
“He closed the game against Murray (State to open the season) and he played well against Ohio,” Drew said.
So now that Yeo is on everyone’s radar screen — not just the VU coaches’ — look for him to continue to contribute on both ends of the court since Yeo preferred his own effort against Bader.
“I care about my defense (in the Oakland game) more than my offense,” he said. “How many guys have an opportunity to guard a player like that. Bader’s a great player — the numbers don’t lie.”
The missed time might actually help Yeo compared to other players.
“He definitely looked like he had fresh legs (against Oakland) in getting rebounds and running,” Drew said.
Yeo will be needed in the final stretch of games as the Crusaders are still in the thick of the regular-season race. Valparaiso starts with a road game at Milwaukee — not an easy place to get a win. The Panthers just won at first-place Green Bay, and they’re one game behind the Crusaders in the standings.
Valparaiso sits in third, which is very important with the Horizon League Tournament format. Third place gets a bye, first and second get a double bye to the semifinals, and the other six teams have to play in the first round, three days after the regular season ends.
The Crusaders’ fate is totally up in the air and in their own hands. They can finish anywhere from eighth to first depending on what other teams do. If they win the last five games, they are guaranteed second place, with a shot at first if Green Bay loses once to someone else.
Bonus contributions from someone like Yeo is coming at the perfect time.