Valparaiso took the lead for good with 14:40 to play at Youngstown State Thursday night, and converted on 8-of-9 free throw attempts in the game’s final minute to secure a 67-61 victory over the Penguins.
“I was very proud of our free throw shooting down the stretch,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “Free throw shooting is something we've really focused on improving recently, and it was great to see us convert late.”
Valpo trailed by just two at the half, 22-20, despite connecting on just 22.6% of its shots in the opening 20 minutes. The Penguins extended the lead to four points early in the second stanza, but that was as large as their advantage would get in the second half, as Shawn Huff (Helsinki, Finland/Makelanrinne) knocked down the first of his three second-half 3-pointers to cut the lead back down to one. After a YSU basket, Samuel Haanpää (Kerava, Finland/Cornerstone [Texas] Christian) hit a trifecta of his own to tie the game at 29 with 15:12 to play.
A minute later, freshman Bryan Bouchie (Washington, Ind./Washington) gave Valpo the lead for good with back-to-back buckets in the paint, eventually scoring eight straight Crusader points to help extend the Valpo advantage to three points at 37-34 with 12:20 to play. After a Penguin basket, Huff hit a jumper to bump the lead back to three, and Brandon McPherson (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) followed with a triple a minute later to give Valpo its biggest lead to that point, 42-36 with 10:27 left.
The Crusaders would maintain a two-possession lead for most of the rest of the ballgame. Youngstown State cut the lead down to one possession on three occasions in the latter stages of the half, but Valpo answered on its next possession each of the three times, with McPherson hitting two shots and Jarryd Loyd (Lincolnwood, Ill./Niles West) one. Huff’s jumper with 1:39 to play gave Valpo its largest lead at 59-51, and while the Penguins cut the lead down to two points twice in the final minute, the Crusaders knocked down their free throws to win the game.
McPherson poured in a season-high 20 points to lead the Crusaders Thursday night, with 15 points coming on a perfect 5-for-5 effort from the field in the second half. Huff added 15 points of his own, 13 of which came in the second 20 minutes, while Bouchie scored 15 points off the bench and also grabbed seven rebounds. Loyd dished out a game-high seven assists, all of which came in the second half, and moved up to eighth place on Valpo’s career assists chart, passing Rob Cavanaugh.
“Second half, Bryan and Mike (Rogers) did a great job of coming off the bench and giving us energy on both ends of the court,” said Drew. “Jarryd really did a good job of penetrating the defense and kicking out to open shooters, and Brandon and Shawn stepped up and hit big shots for us."
Byron Davis paced Youngstown State (7-10, 3-4 Horizon) with 23 points on 10-for-16 shooting, while John Barber scored 18 and Jack Liles chipped in 13 points. Vytas Sulskis led all players with 11 rebounds.
Valparaiso (13-5, 4-2 Horizon) improved to 3-1 on the road in league play with the victory, and now takes aim at league leader Cleveland State on Saturday evening. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. CST, and all the action can be heard live 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. The game can also be seen online through the Horizon League Network.