Valparaiso was within seven at halftime and cut a 24-point second-half deficit to nine points late, but eventually succumbed to #6/4 North Carolina 88-77 Sunday afternoon in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Redshirt sophomore Brandon Wood (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo [Highland C.C./Southern Illinois]) put up 30 points in just his second game as a Crusader after debuting with a 26-point effort on Friday. Wood scored 17 of his points in the game’s final 13 minutes during the Crusader rally, and ended the night hitting 12 of his 19 shot attempts, including 6-of-10 from behind the arc. Fifth-year senior Brandon McPherson (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) added 20 points as well, knocking down four of his six 3-point attempts.
“I'm really proud of our basketball team,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “I thought that [Wood and McPherson] really played well for us especially offensively, but I've been thrilled since I think we've had a huge growth defensively. We're very young, seven freshmen and sophomores and we're still learning each other. We're still learning how to play together. I thought tonight was a big step for our basketball team, because we shared the ball, we looked for people, and I felt our offense was very efficient. I felt our defense did well. We tried to keep it tight. But you have to compliment North Carolina. They killed us on the boards, 42-23, but our guys continued to battle, battle, battle.”
The Tar Heels looked to pull away early in the first half, going ahead 18-11 8:30 into the ballgame. But the Crusaders came back with an 11-4 spurt over the next three minutes to tie things up at 22. McPherson knocked down two of his triples during the run and also added a jumper, while Wood connected on a triple as well as Valpo knotted things up with 8:27 to play in the opening half.
UNC responded with nine straight points to go ahead 31-22 with 4:25 left in the half, but McPherson connected on a pair of free throws and Wood hit a pair of long jumpers to pull Valpo back to within three two minutes later. The Tar Heels responded with seven straight points and looked to go into halftime up by ten points, but Matt Kenney (Mooresville, Ind./Mooresville) found Ryan Broekhoff (Frankston, Victoria, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport) in the right corner for a triple with three seconds left in the half to move within 38-31 at the break.
North Carolina took advantage of a pair of Valpo turnovers on its first two possessions of the second half to key an 8-0 run over the first two minutes coming out of the break. The eight-point spurt was part of a larger 23-8 extended run that put the Tar Heels on top 61-39 with 14:08 to play.
The lead remained in the low 20’s for UNC for most of the next six minutes, with the Tar Heels extending it to as many as 24 points at 67-43 at one point. The Crusaders still trailed by 20 (70-50) with 8:41 to play before putting together a run to put themselves back in contention.
Wood started the run with a 3-pointer, and Broekhoff converted on a pair of free throws on a fast-break chance to slice the deficit to 15. McPherson then came up with a steal on the next defensive possession, and again the Crusaders ran, as Broekhoff found Wood for a spot-up triple to quickly make it 70-58 with 7:33 remaining.
UNC scored the next five points to extend the lead back out to 17, but Valpo refused to go away, as Cory Johnson (Duluth, Minn./Duluth East [Iowa State]) converted on a 3-point play out of a timeout to stop the Tar Heel spurt. After a pair of UNC free throws, Wood knocked down a jumper and Kenney came up with a steal and fast-break basket to get within 12.
Two possessions later, Wood knocked down yet another runner to pull the Crusaders with 77-67 with 3:44 to play. The lead remained between 10-13 points for the next couple minutes until McPherson came up with a triple to bring Valpo back within single digits for the first time since early in the second half with 1:52 to play. The Crusaders were unable to get any closer than nine, however, as the Tar Heels held off Valpo.
Wood and McPherson were the only Crusaders to finish in double figures, but Valpo got a number of other stellar efforts. Johnson chipped in seven points and team-high totals of five rebounds and four assists, while Kenney posted eight points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals without a turnover in 24 minutes off the bench. Broekhoff also came off the bench with seven points in 11 minutes of action.
Deon Thompson (3-0) led the defending national champion Tar Heels with 20 points and eight rebounds, pacing four UNC players in double figures. Ed Davis contributed 16 points and six rebounds, while Larry Drew II added 13 points and tied for team-high honors with Marcus Ginyard, dishing out six assists apiece.
Valparaiso (0-2) returns to the ARC for the first time during the regular season on Thursday evening as the Crusaders host IU-South Bend at 7:05 p.m. Live audio can be heard on the Valpo Sports Radio Network (WEFM [95.9 FM, Michigan City] and WAKE [1500 AM, Valparaiso]), while live video will be available through the Horizon League Network. Links for both, as well as live stats, can be found online at www.valpoathletics.com.