After trailing by 14 points 16 minutes into the game, Valparaiso ended the first half on a 15-4 run and took the lead for good with 13 minutes to play, eventually pulling away for a 68-57 road victory over Youngstown State in Youngstown, Ohio Thursday evening. Urule Igbavboa (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan) set a new career high with 27 points in the victory.
“I think that the last four minutes of the first half was really critical,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “Being down 14 points and cutting the deficit to three at the half really gave our youthful team confidence and momentum heading into the second half.”
The Crusaders trailed by eight points at 17-9 just 8:37 into the ballgame, but a quick 6-0 spurt, keyed by five points from De’Andre Haskins (Long Beach, Calif./La Lumiere [Ind.] School), brought Valpo back to within 17-15 with 8:41 to play in the first half. YSU responded with four 3-pointers in a three-minute span, and a bucket by Sirlester Martin put the Penguins up 31-17 with five minutes to play.
The deficit was still 14 with under four to play in the first half when Igbavboa sparked the half-ending run on the offensive end, with freshman Logan Jones (Madison, Ind./Madison) providing the intensity on the defensive end with a pair of steals. After drawing a foul and knocking down a pair of free throws with 3:52 to play, the senior converted on layups back-to-back possessions to make it a 33-25 game. It was 35-26 with 2:36 remaining when fellow senior Jake Diebler (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky) knocked down two 3-pointers in a 90-second span to cut the lead to 35-32 at the half.
Valpo came out of the break in the second half with the first four points, as Erik Buggs (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell) hit a layup and Igbavboa knocked down a pair of free throws to take the lead for the first time since 9-6. The teams traded the lead a couple times and it was Youngstown State with a 39-38 advantage with just over 13 minutes to play when the Crusaders put together another spurt to take the lead for good.
The run started with a layup by Jones with 13:04 remaining, and the freshman pulled down a rebound just over a minute later and found Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) for a fast-break dunk over a defender to push Valpo’s lead to three points. Jones added another layup on Valpo’s next possession to cap the quick 6-0 spurt and make it 44-39 with 11:10 to play.
The Penguins cut the lead back down to three points with nine minutes to play, but after calling a timeout to set up their press, they found it broken immediately by the Crusaders. Rogers tossed an alley-oop up to Igbavboa to push the lead back to five points and send the momentum back Valpo’s way. The lead fluctuated between five and nine points for the next few minutes, with a jumper in the paint by YSU’s Sirlester Martin cutting the margin to 57-50 with 5:08 remaining.
But Igbavboa stepped up again, knocking down three free throws and picking up a steal on the defensive end to make it a ten-point game. After a defensive stop, Valpo ran down the shot clock and found Igbavboa on the inside for a three-point play to push the lead to 63-50 with 3:03 to play. Next time down the floor, Valpo again ran down the shot clock, and this time it was Diebler with a 3-pointer that found the bottom of the net to secure the victory for the Crusaders.
“I thought we had three big plays in the second half that helped keep the momentum in our favor,” said Drew. “First was Logan’s pass on the fast break to Mike for the dunk. Then Mike found Urule with the alley-oop after breaking the press, and finally Jake had a four-point play that really secured the momentum. But the real key was on the defensive end, holding Youngstown to just five baskets and no threes in the first 19 minutes of the half.”
Igbavboa hit nine of his 15 attempts from the field and went 9-of-11 from the foul line for his career-high 27 points. The senior also ripped down a team-best nine rebounds. Diebler was one point off his career high, hitting 4-of-7 shots from behind the arc on his way to 15 points. Rogers added eight points and seven rebounds.
“Urule had a dominating effect on both ends in the paint tonight,” said Drew. “Offensively, he helped us outscore Youngstown in the paint by 18 points and defensively, he pulled down a number of key rebounds.”
Kelvin Bright led Youngstown State (1-5, 0-1 Horizon) with 13 points, but scored all 13 in the first 20 minutes. Martin added 11 points and 11 rebounds, while DeAndre Mays chipped in ten points. Diebler’s defense in man-to-man and the Crusaders’ focus in the zone helped keep Penguin leading scorer Vytas Sulskis, who entered the game averaging 15.2 ppg, to just two points from the free throw line.
Valparaiso (3-4, 1-1 Horizon) returns home for the first time in nearly a month on Wednesday, December 10, taking on IPFW at the ARC at 8 p.m. 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, which will also have links for live statistics and video.