Macomb, Ill. – Stalin Ortiz led four Crusaders in double figures with 18 points as first-place Valpo defeated Western Illinois 74-62. Raitis Grafs tallied 13 points, seven rebounds and two blocks, while Kikas Gomes and Ali Berdiel added 10 points each for Valpo (13-8, 7-1 Mid-Con).
Following a 29-29 tie with 3:42 left in the first half, the Crusaders used a 10-0 run to take a 39-29 halftime lead. Gomes made two layups and Ortiz scored three points during the run which was capped off by Greg Tonagel’s 3-point basket with :01 left.
Valpo, which shot 54 percent overall (27-50), made 61 percent of its shots (17 of 28) in the first 20 minutes. The Crusaders dominated inside, outscoring Western Illinois 38-20 in the paint. Valpo’s ability to score inside was clearly evident in the first half as the Crusaders held a 24-8 advantage. Ortiz made four shots close to the basket and added three free throws to lead the Crusaders with 11 first-half points.
The Crusaders’ first-half offense was ignited by a staunch defense, which forced 13 Leatherneck turnovers before halftime, leading to 13 points. Overall, Western Illinois (6-14, 2-6 Mid-Con) committed 20 turnovers, leading to 21 Valpo points.
Valpo extended its scoring run to 15 straight points by netting the first five points of the second half to take a 44-29 lead with 18:30 remaining. Dan Oppland scored six points on layups and Ortiz also tallied six as the Crusaders outscored the Leathernecks 23-15 over the next 10:36 to expand the lead to 23 points (67-44) – the largest of the game – with 7:54 left. Seth Colclasure added five points, which included a 3-pointer, during the stretch.
Matt Robins made three, 3-pointers in the final 4:49 to help WIU cut its deficit to 12 as the horn sounded. J.D Summers, who drained five treys, led all scorers with 20 points. Summers made four of his 3-pointers in the first nine minutes, propelling the Leathernecks to as much as a six-point lead in the first half. Shawn Mason scored 10 points for WIU.
Oppland tied Grafs for game-high rebounding honors with seven. Valpo won the battle of the boards 30-26. Tonagel dished out a game-high six assists as the Crusaders assisted on 20 of 27 baskets. Berdiel, who finished with five assists, made four of Valpo’s 14 steals. Gomes and Grafs made three steals each.
Western Illinois finished shooting 46 percent overall, including 41 percent (9 of 22) from 3-point territory. Valpo made 15 of 29 free throws (52 percent), while WIU made 11 of 19 (58 percent) from the charity stripe.
Valpo travels to play at Chicago State on Thursday at 7 p.m.