Valparaiso 92, BYU 89
LAS VEGAS — For the second time in the calendar year, BYU lost a heartbreaker to Valparaiso.
The Cougars also suffered their first loss of the season Wednesday night in a 92-89 setback to the Crusaders in the MGM Grand Main Event championship game.
BYU (4-1) couldn’t quite avenge a 72-70 defeat to Valpo (5-1) in the NIT semifinals last March.
In both games, the Cougars had a chance to tie or win the game with a final shot.
On Wednesday, forward Eric Mika’s desperation shot from the corner missed the basket as time expired.
“They came out in a 1-3-1 zone. The play was for Nick (Emery) to get to the corner and Eric was going to set a screen for (TJ Haws),” explained coach Dave Rose. “All that happened and we didn’t get an open guy. Eric popped to the corner. He got a shot but it obviously wasn’t the shot we wanted.”
BYU enjoyed a 12-point lead in the first half but the Cougars’ post players got in serious foul trouble as the Crusaders battled back and led by as many as eight with five minutes remaining.
Back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers by Haws, Emery and Davin Guinn gave BYU an 85-83 lead with 2:55 left, but Valpo quickly retook the lead and never trailed again.
Star forward Alec Peters scored on a drive with 11.5 seconds for what turned out to be the game-winning basket. Peters finished with a game-high 26 points and 12 rebounds while Shane Hammink scored 23 points.
“We’re young and we’re trying to learn how to play defense in foul trouble against a team that’s really good at attacking, driving hard to the basket,” Rose said. “They have one of the best skilled post guys in the country in Peters. He’s a guy who is a good one-on-one player. One of our goals was to keep him off the foul line, and he went to the line 12 times. We had a real problem with staying with what we wanted to do.”
Valparaiso outscored BYU in the paint 34-26 and scored 22 points off Cougar turnovers.
Emery led BYU with 18 points on 5 of 16 shooting. Haws scored 15 and Mika had 13 in just 19 minutes. Guinn had 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting from the field.
Mika was charged with his third personal less than one minute into second half. He had a highlight-worthy alley-oop dunk from Haws and scored another bucket before he picked up his fourth foul with 16:28 left in the half.
Valparaiso seized its first lead of the game, 49-48, with 17:24 left after three free throws by Peters.
Guinn knocked down a pair of 3-pointers to keep the Cougars close.
In the first half, with Valparaiso doubling in the post, BYU capitalized by hitting its first three shots, all 3-pointers, and its first four 3-pointers — two by Emery and two by Haws.
Another Emery 3-pointer propelled the Cougars to a 12-point lead, 21-9.
But Mika, Kyle Davis and Yoeli Childs all picked up two fouls and spent most of the half on the bench while the Crusaders battled back to within three points, 29-26, after an 8-0 run. Mika played only five minutes before leaving the game.
“It was tough,” BYU guard L.J. Rose said of playing without Mika. “It’s something that were not used to.”
Peters, who averages 25 points per game, was held scoreless through the first nine minutes, but he started to heat up, finishing the half with a team-high 11.
Valparaiso eventually tied the game at 44-44 with 25 seconds left, but BYU led at halftime, 46-44, after Braiden Shaw buried two free throws with .6 of a second left.
The Cougars felt fortunate to be ahead at intermission, considering Mika scored one point in the first half.
BYU hosts Utah Valley University Saturday (4 p.m. MST, TheW.tv).