RICHMOND — Valparaiso is playing in a zone of late.
The Crusaders came into McBrayer Arena on Wednesday night and pulled away late to beat Eastern Kentucky 72-66.
Valpo, No. 14 in CollegeInsider.com's mid-major rankings, came in riding a six-game winning streak. It won those six by an average of 23.7 points, including a 93-58 thrashing of Ohio Valley Conference pre-season favorite Murray State.
Eastern put up a fight, though, and led 45-43 early in the second half. Just about that time, Valpo went to a 2-3 zone and sent the Colonels' shooting into a funk.
Valpo scored the next six points, igniting a 22-4 flurry that gave the visitors a 65-49 lead with 3:18 left.
The closest Eastern got after that was five points, 71-66, on Corey Walden's steal-and-layup with 9.2 seconds left.
Valpo (8-1) was led by Alec Peters, who scored 21 points on 7-for-8 shooting from three-point range. Tevonn Walker added 15 points, Vashil Fernandez had 12 and Keith Carter had nine points and seven assists.
Eastern (4-2) dropped its second straight game and had a 25-game home-floor winning streak against non-conference foes snapped.
Timmy Knipp paced the Colonels with 16 points. Walden scored 11 of his 13 in the final 2:08 and tied Knipp for the team lead in rebounds with five. Eric Stutz added 11 points and Jaylen Babb-Harrison came off the bench to score 10.
"First of all, Valparaiso's one of the best-coached teams in the country. Bryce (Drew) does a phenomenal job, and he's done a phenomenal job for several years now," EKU Coach Jeff Neubauer said. "Obviously Al Peters is a high-level player and ... offensively, he literally is one of those matchups that is almost impossible. He really knows how to score the ball, he rebounds the ball, he shoots threes. We got to him several times and contested, but he's 6-foot-9 and just shoots it as pure as can be. So I think comparisons to Doug McDermott (of the Chicago Bulls), they make a lot of sense."
Eastern, which leads the nation in turnover margin, won that battle 16-7. But the Colonels were outrebounded 39-26, with David Skara coming off the bench to lead Valpo with nine.
"They did a really good job tonight. They came out and they really defended us," Walden said. "They made us miss shots, and they were a presence down low with some taller guys. We've just got to get better at making shots on the outside and attacking better."
Peters helped Valpo shoot 49 percent overall, 52.4 percent (11 of 21) from three-point range. Eastern was held to 36.1 percent overall and 32.4 percent (12 of 37) from long distance.
"We didn't attack their zone very well in the second half," Neubauer said. "It was obviously a great basketball game for at least 30 minutes, and then we really struggled. We were a little bit passive against the zone. We didn't get the ball inside against the zone; we didn't drive it against the zone."
Valpo, whose only loss came at Missouri, led by as many as 12 in the first half and was up 32-30 at intermission.
Things stayed closed early in the second half.
A Knipp three-pointer put Eastern ahead for a final time, 45-43, with 12½ minutes left.
"We stopped making shots there, stopped attacking the zone," Knipp said. "We've just got to get better at that as the season goes on."
And rebound better.
"We just need to box out harder, just play harder overall," Knipp said. "I feel like we've been doing that in practice, so we've just got to carry it over to the game."
The next chance coming Sunday, when EKU visits top-ranked Kentucky.