Valparaiso put together its best offensive performance against a Division I opponent this season Saturday night at the Athletics-Recreation Center, but Green Bay’s Ryan Tillema had a career-best 36 points to lead the Phoenix to an 83-76 victory over the Crusaders.
The Crusaders connected on 13 3-pointers Saturday evening, by far a season high, led by a career-best six off the hands of sophomore Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School), who ended the night with a career-high 28 points. Valpo hit 28 shots for the game, the most against a D-I opponent this year by the Crusaders, and shot at a 48.3% clip from the field.
Tillema was the difference maker in holding off the Crusaders, however. The senior poured in 25 of his 36 points in the first half, helping to stake the Phoenix to a 44-35 halftime advantage. He scored 11 straight points for Green Bay in less than two minutes late in the first half, extending a five-point lead to 13 points, and his triple with 2:49 remaining in the stanza made it a 42-28 ballgame.
But as they did on Thursday against Milwaukee, the Crusaders closed the first half with a quick spurt. Little answered Tillema’s triple with a 3-pointer of his own off a feed from Erik Buggs (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell) to bring Valpo back within 11, and a Mike Schachtner layup for the Phoenix was answered by a layup by Urule Igbavboa (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan). Given the last possession of the half, Jake Diebler (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky) drew a foul while attempting a 3-pointer and hit two of the three to make it a nine-point game at the break.
The lead hovered around the ten-point mark for the first few minutes of the second half, with the Phoenix extending it to 13 at 56-43 with 14:11 to play on a Bryquis Perine layup. But the Crusaders put together a quick 8-0 run of their own, including a 3-pointer and a fast-break assist by Little, to draw within five points. Coming out of the under-12 media timeout, Valpo actually had a chance to make it a one-possession game, but a missed 3-pointer led to a fast-break triple by Tillema.
Valpo had two more opportunities to make it a one-possession game later in the half. A Little triple made it 63-58 Green Bay with 6:44 to play, but a turnover on the ensuing offensive trip led to a Terry Evans breakaway dunk by the Phoenix. The Crusaders ran their offense on the next trip, getting a layup by Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) to cut it back to five.
But following a defensive stop, Valpo missed a 3-pointer and Tillema connected on a rare 4-point play on the other end to keep the Crusaders at bay. Valpo would cut the lead back down to six points late after back-to-back 3-pointers, but could never get within one shot to tie or take the lead in the second half.
“I thought Green Bay’s experience was really the difference tonight,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “We really played well, one of our best offensive games, but Tillema was hitting from everywhere, whether he was open or guarded. Then in the second half, when we made runs at them, they got big baskets from their upperclassmen.”
Little, whose previous career high was just 16 points, had a stellar all-around performance in all aspects. The sophomore also contributed a game-high seven rebounds, handed out three assists with a turnover and came up with three steals on the defensive end.
“I thought Howard had, by far, his best game in a Valpo uniform tonight,” said Drew. “Not only did he score a lot of points, he also was guarding a very tough matchup in Evans on the defensive end of the floor and limited both his scoring production and his impact on the boards.”
Diebler, who set his career high with 19 points in the Milwaukee win two nights ago, came up with 17 more on Saturday, canning five 3-pointers for the second consecutive contest. The senior also played all 40 minutes for the third straight game. Igbavboa added 15 points, four assists and three blocked shots, while Rogers filled up the stat sheet with seven points, seven rebounds and a career-best six assists.
Three starters also reached double figures in scoring to help out Tillema on the offensive end for Green Bay (15-6, 7-2 Horizon). Rahmon Fletcher scored all 14 of his points in the second half, while Evans and Mike Schachtner added 12 points apiece. The Phoenix connected on 52.8% (28-of-53) of its shots for the game, including a sizzling 56.0% (14-of-25) from behind the arc.
Valparaiso (6-15, 3-7 Horizon) closes out a three-game stretch against the league’s top three teams on Friday evening, when the Crusaders play on national television for the third time this year at #16/17 Butler. Tipoff is slated for 6 p.m. CST and the game can be seen nationally on ESPNU. As always, all the action can also be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network (WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso; WAKE, 1500 AM, Valparaiso; WEFM, 95.9 FM, Michigan City) and online at www.valpoathletics.com. Live statistics will also be available through the official Crusader website.