In a see-saw battle Wednesday evening that saw both teams claim double-digit leads at one point, Valparaiso had a pair of point-blank attempts for the go-ahead basket roll around and out in the final ten seconds as Milwaukee eventually claimed a 79-76 win over the Crusaders in Milwaukee, Wis.
A 3-pointer by redshirt junior Brandon Wood (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo [Highland C.C./Southern Illinois]), his fourth triple of the game, with just over a minute to play tied the game at 74-all and set up a dramatic final minute. Milwaukee came down and got a backdoor layup from Tony Meier while being fouled with 47 seconds to go to re-claim the lead. Meier completed the 3-point play to make it a 77-74 game.
Valpo came down and got three good looks from 3-point range by Wood in a 12-second span, all of which missed but all of which the Crusaders were able to corral offensive rebounds on. Senior Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) grabbed two of the offensive caroms, including the final one as he was being fouled. Little calmly stepped to the free throw line and drained both shots to bring the Crusaders back within one.
Valpo fouled immediately on the inbounds, but Tone Boyle missed both free throws for the Panthers, giving the Crusaders a chance for the go-ahead basket on their possession in the final seconds. Sophomore Matt Kenney (Mooresville, Ind./Mooresville) was double-teamed on the perimeter and found senior Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) inside for an open layup attempt that rolled around and out. Rogers was right there for a putback try as well, but couldn't get it to fall, and the rebound went out of bounds off the Crusaders. Valpo fouled Meier with 2.3 seconds left, who proceeded to hit both free throws, and the Crusaders' last-ditch full-court effort was intercepted by a Panther to close the game.
“Tonight was a great college basketball game, just a real back-and-forth game,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “You have to credit Milwaukee, because they made a good play [in the final minute] to get Meier the 3-point play. Then we came down and had our chances, but they just didn't fall tonight.”
The tight end to the game was apropos for a contest in which both teams gained large leads, only to see the opposition fight right back. Valpo got out to a 10-4 lead right off the bat, thanks in large part to two early triples by Wood, but Milwaukee went on a 22-6 run to claim a 10-point lead at 26-16 with nine minutes to play in the opening half. Boyle hit a trio of 3-pointers during that stretch, while Anthony Hill added six inside points during the run.
But the Crusaders flipped the script over the last nine minutes of the half, ending the stanza on a 26-10 spurt. Sophomore Ryan Broekhoff (Frankston, Victoria, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport) canned four 3-pointers during the run, the third of which gave Valpo the lead at 34-33. Rogers also knocked down a triple during the run, and after Meier had hit a 3-pointer of his own to cut a four-point advantage to one, the senior came up with a putback bucket while being fouled to push the lead back to four. Sophomore Erik Buggs (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell) ended the run with a steal and fast-break layup, which sent Valpo into the locker room with a 42-36 lead.
“We got down early, but had a good rush to close the half,” said Drew. “Ryan hit a bunch of shots during that stretch, and Mike had a couple of big baskets for us as well. Then the second half was just back-and-forth.”
After a pair of free throws by UWM to open the second half, the Crusaders scored six straight to push its lead into double figures. Broekhoff came up with an offensive rebound on Valpo's first offensive trip and laid it back in while being fouled, eventually completing the 3-point play, and Wood followed with another 3-pointer on the next possession to give the Crusaders a 48-38 lead with 18:36 to play.
But it would take the Panthers just five minutes to erase the Valpo advantage, as Boyle knocked down two more 3-pointers during the stretch while UWM held the Crusaders to just two points. A layup by Hill capped a 14-2 Milwaukee run, giving the Panthers a 52-50 lead with 13:28 remaining. But with the Panther edge up to 61-56 with just under 10 minutes to play, Valpo utilized the fast break to go on a quick 9-1 spurt, getting fast-break baskets from Kenney, Little and Broekhoff as well as a 3-point play by Wood to claim a 65-62 edge with 8:02 left.
Milwaukee answered with a 8-2 spurt of its own over the next 3:34 to go ahead by three points, a run which was snapped by a pair of free throws from Wood. Hill split a pair with 3:57 to play to push the Panther lead to 71-79, but neither squad would score for the next two minutes. Finally, inside of two minutes to play. Boyle connected on a mid-range jumper, but Kenney responded with two free throws on the other end. Boyle then split a pair at the free throw line for UWM, setting up Wood's triple and the final minute of play.
Wood paced the Crusaders Wednesday with 23 points while also leading Valpo with four assists. Broekhoff tallied the second-highest output of his career, going for 21 points of his own. Little added 14 points as well, while Kenney paced the Valpo effort on the glass with seven caroms. The Crusaders shot 52.7% (29-of-55) from the floor, but hit just 9-of-15 (60%) from the free throw line and committed 15 turnovers.
Boyle led Milwaukee (16-11, 11-5 Horizon) with 28 points, including five 3-pointers while Hill posted a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Kaylon Williams chipped in 10 points, as Milwaukee closed the night with 10 3-pointers and shot 51.9% (28-of-54) from the field.
“Boyle played extremely well tonight,” said Drew. “He was hot and really earned his baskets, hitting some tough shots no matter what we threw at him. Then of course, Hill is just a load in the paint for anybody with his size and strength.”
Valparaiso (19-8, 11-4 Horizon) steps out of league play for the final time in the regular season on Saturday as it takes part in the Sears BracketBusters event, hosting Missouri State at the ARC at 4 p.m. Tickets are still available for Saturday afternoon's game, which will be broadcast live nationally on ESPN2 with Dave O'Brien and Dick Vitale on the call. The game can also, as always, be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network and online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have a link for live stats.