An 11-0 run early in the second half was too much for Valparaiso to overcome Saturday evening in its Horizon League opener, as the Crusaders dropped an 84-67 decision to #23/20 Butler in Indianapolis, Ind.
The second half started with the Crusaders trailing by just six points at 38-32, but Butler exploded out of halftime with a quick 7-2 spurt over the first 1:18 of the half, including five points by Gordon Hayward, to take a 45-34 lead. Valpo responded immediately though, getting a pair of free throws by Cory Johnson (Duluth, Minn./Duluth East [Iowa State]) to stop the spurt and bring the deficit back to single digits.
Valpo forced a turnover on Butler’s next possession and then took advantage of an offensive rebound, as Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) found a cutting Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) for a layup. After another Bulldog turnover, Little hit Johnson in the paint for another close-range basket to bring the Crusaders to within five points at 45-40 with 16:46 to play.
But that was as close as Valpo would get the rest of the way, as back-to-back triples by Willie Veasley sparked the aforementioned 11-0 Bulldog spurt to put them ahead by 16. Avery Jukes closed the run for Butler with three points, which put the Bulldogs on top 56-40 with 13:12 remaining. The Crusaders would be unable to get closer than 13 points the rest of the way.
The game opened with Butler scoring eight of the first ten points en route to an early 14-7 lead eight minutes in. Rogers then connected on a triple to start a barrage of 3-pointers that briefly turned the tide in Valpo’s favor, hitting on another trey with ten minutes to play in the half to kick off a 13-2 run. Tommy Kurth (Osceola, Ind./Penn) knocked down 3-pointers on two straight possessions following Roger’s second triple, the second of which gave Valpo its first lead of the game at 19-18.
Coming out of a media timeout, Little got loose for a layup underneath to extend the lead to three, and then out of another media stoppage just 30 seconds later, knocked down a long jumper off a feed from Johnson to give Valpo its biggest edge at 23-18 with 6:51 to play in the half. The Bulldogs responded with a 13-2 run of their own over a three-minute span immediately following the Crusader spurt, though, re-taking the lead for good and eventually taking a 38-32 advantage into the break.
“I thought Butler showed, especially in the second half, why they’re one of the nation’s top teams,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “They have a strong offensive game, both on the inside and from the outside, and their defense put a lot of pressure on us, causing us to commit more turnovers than assists.”
Johnson led the Crusaders with 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting, as well as a team-high five rebounds. Little came off the bench with 14 points and Rogers added 12 as well. Brandon Wood (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo [Highland C.C./Southern Illinois]) and Brandon McPherson (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North), both averaging double figures coming into the game, combined for just 13 points on Saturday.
“I thought Mike really did a good job coming in during the first half and hitting some key baskets and making key plays for us,” said Drew. “Cory did a great job battling down low as well battling against one of the best post players in the league in [Matt] Howard.”
Hayward led all players with 18 points for Butler (6-2, 1-0), one of five Bulldog players to reach double digits. Howard chipped in 16 points and five rebounds, while Veasley scored all 15 of his points in the game’s final 20 minutes.
The teams shot nearly identical percentages from the floor, as Butler connected on 25-of-44 (56.8%) while Valpo hit on 24-of-45 (53.3%), and both squads hit seven 3-pointers, while the rebounding edge just narrowly went to the Bulldogs, 21-20. The Bulldogs held a large advantage from the free throw line, going 27-of-34 (79.4%) while the Crusaders went 12-of-15 (80%), and forced Valpo into 15 turnovers while committing just nine of their own.
Valparaiso (3-5, 0-1) plays its fourth game of the season on the road against a nationally-ranked squad on Wednesday, as the Crusaders make the short trip to West Lafayette to face off against #4/6 Purdue. Game time is set for 6 p.m. CST, with the action being broadcast live on the Big Ten Network. As always, the game will also be available on the Valpo Sports Radio Network (WEFM, 95.9 FM, Michigan City; WAKE, 1500 AM, Valparaiso) and online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have a link for live statistics.