Valparaiso twice cut double-digit second half deficits to within one possession and was still within three points with 1:28 to play, but could never gain the lead in the final 20 minutes, as San Diego captured a 73-66 victory in both teams’ opening game at the Paradise Jam at St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.
The first half was close throughout, as the margin stayed within single digits for the entirety of the stanza. San Diego drew away by seven points at 23-16 with 6:31 to play with a pair of free throws, but the Crusaders quickly cut into the lead, as Benjamin Fumey (Bremen, Germany/Freie Hansestadt) scored three points while Logan Jones (Madison, Ind./Madison) converted a fast-break layup within a 1:24 span to move back within two points. The Crusaders and Toreros were actually tied at 27 with 3:13 to play in the half before San Diego ended the stanza on a 10-3 spurt to go into the break ahead 37-30.
The Toreros extended their lead at the start of the second half, going ahead by ten points at 42-32 just over two minutes into the half. But the Crusaders had a run in them, going on a 12-4 spurt over a 2:47 span to cut their deficit to just two points. Erik Buggs (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell) knocked down a 3-pointer and also hit a layup during the run, while Jones also added three points during the run.
San Diego responded immediately with eight consecutive points over a two-minute span to pull back ahead 54-44 with 11:17 remaining. But a resilient Valpo squad did not fold at this point either, storming back with ten of the next 12 points to cut the deficit back down to two points at 56-54 with 9:25 to play. Buggs and Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) each scored five points during the run to help keep the Crusaders close.
Valpo kept it a one-possession contest for the next few minutes and actually had the lead down to one point with six minutes to play, but could not knot up the score or take the lead from the Toreros. San Diego extended its advantage and held a two-possession lead for much of the last five minutes until Urule Igbavboa (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan) hit a pair of free throws with 1:28 to play to cut the margin to 69-66. The Toreros would not let Valpo any closer, however, knocking down four free throws down the stretch and forcing a key Crusader turnover to hold on for the win.
Buggs led the Crusaders with 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting and also added five rebounds in the losing effort. Igbavboa added 13 points, including nine free throws, but was the only other Valpo player in double figures.
Gyno Pomare paced San Diego (2-1) with 17 points off the bench and finished with a double-double, as he also grabbed 12 rebounds. Brandon Johnson chipped in 14 points and eight rebounds for the Toreros, who out-rebounded the Crusaders by a 50-30 count.
Valparaiso (2-1) moves into the consolation bracket of the Paradise Jam and will face the loser of tonight’s Iona/Wisconsin game at 7:30 p.m. CST on Saturday. All the action can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network (WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso; WAKE, 1500 AM, Valparaiso; WEFM, 95.9 FM, Michigan City; WWLO, 89.1 FM, Lowell) and online at www.valpoathletics.com.