J.R. Blount hit a layup with under five seconds to play to complete an 8-0 Loyola run over the game’s final 1:30 as the Ramblers came from behind to defeat Valparaiso Saturday night, 65-63, at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
The late run by the Ramblers negated a valiant comeback effort on the Crusaders’ part, as Valpo looked to earn its largest come-from-behind victory of the season. The Crusaders were down 50-37 four minutes into the second half after Loyola scored nine of the first 12 points out of the locker room. But back-to-back layups by Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) jump-started a 10-0 Valpo run to pull the team back to within three points with 13:41 to play.
Loyola extended the lead back out to seven points at 57-50 with 7:40 remaining in the game, but this time it was Brandon McPherson’s (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) turn to kick off a Crusader run. McPherson completed a conventional three-point play and added two layups during the early stages of the run, the second of which put the Crusaders ahead 58-57 with 4:54 to play. Three points from Urule Igbavboa (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan) and a layup by Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) capped the 13-0 Valpo run, which put the Crusaders ahead 63-57 with 1:43 remaining.
But that ended up being the precursor for the Ramblers’ run to close out the game. Tracy Robinson hit a pair of free throws to pull Loyola back to within four points and converted on two more freebies after the Ramblers forced a turnover on the inbounds pass, making it a 63-61 ballgame. After a Crusader miss, a foul was called on the rebound, putting Loyola’s Ross Forman on the line for two more free throws, which he made to tie the game at 63, setting up Blount’s last-second shot.
Loyola held the lead for most of the first half, extending its edge to 27-19 with seven minutes to play in the opening stanza. But four different Crusaders scored during a 9-0 run over the next three minutes, as Shawn Huff’s (Helsinki, Finland/Makelanrinne) triple with 4:16 remaining in the half put Valpo ahead 28-27. Loyola responded immediately, though, scoring 13 of the next 15 points to pull ahead by double digits and eventually taking a 41-34 lead into the break.
“I was very proud of our team’s effort tonight,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “We showed a lot of heart coming back to take the lead in the second half. You have to give Loyola credit for making that final shot; we played good defense on the possession and they hit the shot."
McPherson led Valpo with 13 points, while Samuel Haanpää (Kerava, Finland/Cornerstone [Texas] Christian) added 11 and Jarryd Loyd (Lincolnwood, Ill./Niles West) 10 off the bench. Igbavboa scored nine points and grabbed 11 rebounds, nine in the final 20 minutes, while Loyd led all players with six assists.
Blount paced Loyola (7-13, 3-7 Horizon) with 19 points. Andy Polka contributed 11 points to go with team-high totals of six rebounds and four assists, while Justin Cerasoli also scored 10 points.
Valparaiso (14-7, 5-4 Horizon) has a nine-day layoff before its next game, a nationally-televised contest on ESPN2 against #14/15 Butler on Tuesday, February 5. Tickets are still available for the Rivalry Week matchup by calling the Valparaiso University Ticket Office at 219-464-5233 or 1-800-514-ETIX, ordering online or stopping by the ARC. The game, as always, can also be heard on the Valpo Sports Radio Network (WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso; WEFM, 95.9 FM, Michigan City; WAKE, 1500 AM, Valparaiso; WWLO, 89.1 FM, Lowell) or online at www.valpo.edu/athletics.