Valparaiso, Ind. - Four Valpo players scored in double figures and the Crusaders withstood two missed 3-point attempts in the last two seconds to defeat Western Illinois 54-51 in the Mid-Continent Conference opener for both teams.
With Valpo leading 52-51 with 11 seconds remaining, Dan Oppland was fouled and drained two free throws to extend the Crusaders' advantage to 54-51. Following a Leatherneck timeout, Troy Okeson missed a potential-game-tying 3-pointer with two seconds left and Nathan Koster's trey was off target at the buzzer.
Oppland, the reigning Mid-Con Player of the Week, led Valpo (5-8, 1-0) with 13 points and eight rebounds. Freshman Shawn Huff came off the bench to score a career-high 12 points, while Ron Howard and Seth Colclasure added 11 each. Eulis Baez topped Western Illinois (4-8, 0-1) with 22 points and 11 boards.
Valpo led by as many as 12 (49-37) with 6 minutes remaining and by 10 (52-42) at the 2:43 mark before the Leathernecks went on a 9-0 run to pull within 52-51 on Fred Oguns' layup with 20 seconds left. After a Valpo timeout, the Crusaders broke the WIU pressure and Oppland was fouled in the frontcourt prior to his clutch charity tosses.
Western Illinois led 7-2 in the first three minutes before Valpo tied the contest at 8-8 with 12:34 left in the first half. The Crusaders, behind Howard's five points, took a 17-12 lead with 9 minutes left before WIU tied the game at 17-17 and took a 23-17 lead at the 1:06 mark on two consecutive 3-pointers by TJ Gray in a span of 21 seconds.
The Crusaders responded with an 8-0 run behind five straight points by Oppland, including a three-point play with three seconds left. WIU's inbounds pass was stolen by Colclasure, who swished a 3-pointer from the left wing at the buzzer to give Valpo a 25-23 lead at the intermission.
In the second half, another trey by Colclasure increased Valpo's lead to 31-25 with 18 minutes left before the Leathernecks trimmed their deficit to 33-32 with 5:10 remaining. Valpo used a 6-0 run to lead 39-32 and expanded the advantage to 12 with a 10-5 run. Colclasure made a long 3-pointer - his third of the game - as the shot clock was expiring to highlight the stretch.
Defense was featured in the game as Valpo finished shooting 38 percent overall (20-53) to 40 percent (20-50) for WIU. The Crusaders made 7 of 19 3-point attempts (37 percent) and 7 of 11 free throws. WIU made 5 of 16 treys and converted 6 of 12 free throws. Valpo held a 37-34 edge on the boards. Each team committed 16 turnovers.
Colclasure grabbed a career-high six rebounds and tied Howard and Jimmie Miles with four assists. Baez made 10 of 17 shots for the Leathernecks.
Valpo hosts Oral Roberts on Saturday at 7:05 p.m.