Valparaiso put together a complete game in its return to the Athletics-Recreation Center, locking down on defense while lighting up the scoreboard on the offensive end in an 81-49 victory over Toledo Saturday afternoon.
The game was the Crusaders’ first home contest since a November 19 win over IU-South Bend, ending a stretch of six consecutive games away from home. Valpo connected on 52.5% of its field goal attempts offensively, including a 12-for-23 (52.2%) effort from behind the 3-point line. Meanwhile, on the defensive side of the ball, the Crusaders hounded Toledo into 37.0% shooting and just 12.5% from behind the arc while also forcing 18 Rocket turnovers.
“It’s really nice just to get back home,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “I think you saw our guys really respond well to playing in front of our students and our fans for the first time in almost a month. I was very pleased with our defense today. We really have been stressing improvement on that end and have gotten better. We’ve still got a long way to go to get to where we need to be, but today was a giant step in the right direction.”
Toledo gained its only lead of the game by scoring the game’s first basket, but Valpo quickly rolled off an 11-2 spurt to take control. The Rockets had cut the lead to 11-8 with 10:55 to play in the opening half before the Crusaders put together a big run to push the lead into double digits for good.
Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) kicked off the run with a triple off a feed from Matt Kenney (Mooresville, Ind./Mooresville), who next time down the floor converted an old-fashioned 3-point play of his own. Following a Toledo bucket, Rogers found himself open for another 3-pointer, this time getting an assist from Brandon McPherson (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North).
The next trip to the offensive end saw Brandon Wood (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo [Highland C.C./Southern Illinois]) connect on a short jumper, and following a shot clock violation, McPherson hit a jumper of his own. The Rockets connected on a layup on their next possession, but Valpo countered immediately as Wood found McPherson for a trifecta to make it six straight fruitful possessions and a 27-12 lead.
Toledo would score the next four points to crawl back to within 11, but that was as close as it would get, as the Crusaders got a free throw from Wood and two from McPherson and baskets in the paint from Kenney and Cory Johnson (Duluth, Minn./Duluth East [Iowa State]) in a seven-point spurt that capped a larger 23-8 run that spanned 7:27 of playing time to give Valpo a 34-16 advantage. The Crusaders would eventually head into the locker room with a 38-24 lead at the break.
Valpo kept its foot on the gas pedal coming out of the locker room to quickly put the game away. The Crusaders forced a turnover on Toledo’s first possession that turned into a 3-pointer by McPherson. Wood came up with a defensive rebound on the Rockets’ next trip and found McPherson for another triple, this one coming on the fast break, which quickly pushed the lead to 20 points and forced a Toledo timeout.
Johnson then went to work down low, pulling down three straight rebounds, the last of which came on the offensive end that he converted into a second-chance layup. Two possessions later, Johnson came up with another basket in the paint to make it a 24-point lead.
Wood pulled down the rebound off a Rocket miss on the ensuing defensive possession and took the ball in himself for a layup. The next defensive trip saw Johnson come up with a blocked shot and Wood corral the ball before finding Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) in the open court for a fast-break layup to cap a 14-0 run out of the locker room and make it 52-24 with 15:23 remaining. The lead would not fall below 25 points the rest of the way as the Crusaders cruised to the win.
“[McPherson] really started that run for us with the confidence in his shot on those back-to-back threes,” said Drew. “But I was really impressed with the way [Wood] handled the ball during that run. He really saw the floor well running the break, and got our guys some wide-open shots.”
Johnson and McPherson tied for game-high scoring honors with 15 points, the former going 7-of-10 from the field while the latter was one of three Crusaders to knock down a trio of 3-pointers. Johnson also pulled down a game-best nine rebounds and came up with three steals. Wood added 13 points, five rebounds and six assists, while Rogers and Ryan Broekhoff (Frankston, Victoria, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport) each connected on three triples for nine points. Valpo dished out 18 assists on 31 baskets while committing just nine turnovers, and held large advantages in points off turnovers (21-6) and fast break points (16-2).
Jordan Dressler and Malcolm Griffin each scored nine points to lead Toledo (3-8) on Saturday, while Stephen Albrecht chipped in seven points. Dressler also registered a team-high eight rebounds.
Valparaiso (4-6) stays at home for its next game, taking to the court at the ARC again next Saturday the 19th as the Crusaders host Concordia (Wis.) at 7:05 p.m. As always, the game can be heard 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 and video through the Horizon League Network.