Cincinnati, Ohio ? Valpo played Cincinnati point-for-point for 35 minutes before falling to the Bearcats 88-70 in the season opener. Ron Howard led the Crusaders with 17 points, while Dan Oppland added 14 and Jimmie Miles had 13 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
Cincinnati was led by Jason Maxiell and Eric Hicks with 18 points each. Jihad Muhammad added 17 points, while James White scored 10 ? all in the second half.
Valpo took a 59-58 lead on Miles' 3-pointer with 10 minutes remaining. The Bearcats, who went on an 8-0 run, were ignited by consecutive baskets by Maxiell to take a 66-59 lead with just under eight minutes left. Shawn Huff's 3-pointer cut the Crusaders' deficit to 66-62 before UC went on a 5-0 run.
White's trey put Cincinnati ahead by nine (71-62) until Ali Berdiel made two free throws and Howard hit a 12-foot jumper to pull Valpo within five (71-66) with 5:04 remaining.
Berdiel, Valpo's senior point guard, was whistled for his fifth foul with 4:50 remaining with the Bearcats leading by five. Cincinnati, bolstered by 3-pointers from White and Kirkland, put together a 17-4 run to finish the game. White scored seven during the stretch.
Miles had a solid second half, scoring all 13 of his points, including converting all five of his free throws in the final 20 minutes. Howard was consistent in both halves, netting nine points in the first and eight after intermission.
The Crusaders came back from a 13-point deficit with 7:36 left in the first half by engineering a 21-9 run to trail by one (38-37) at halftime. Seven straight points (including two 3-pointers) by Oppland trimmed the deficit to five (29-24) with 5:52 left. Following a layup by UC, Howard, Berdiel and Seth Colclasure each scored two points to cut the Bearcat lead to 31-30 at the 4:50 mark.
Maxiell tallied four points and Hicks added three to give UC a six-point advantage before Berdiel swished a trey and Huff made two charity tosses with two seconds left to bring Valpo within one heading into the lockerroom.
In the second half, Howard and Oppland made consecutive layups to put Valpo in front by three (41-38) with 19:13 left. Cincinnati took the lead back (43-41) on a Maxiell dunk before Miles made a conventional three-point play and Howard added a free throw to push Valpo ahead by two. The Bearcats grabbed as much as a five-point lead (56-51) when Huff drained a 3-pointer and Miles added two free throws to tie the game at 56-56 with 10:56 left. A layup by Hicks gave UC a short lead until Miles netted his trey from the corner to give Valpo its last lead.
Valpo finished shooting 38 percent overall, including 44 percent from 3-point range (8-18). Cincinnati shot 45 percent overall, including 38 percent (8-21) from beyond the arc. The Crusaders were outstanding at the free throw line, making 16 of 19 (84 percent) to the Bearcats' 22 of 31 (71 percent). Valpo outrebounded UC 42-39 as Oppland snagged six and Moussa Mbaye grabbed five.
Kenny Harris scored nine points ? all in the first half, while Huff, a freshman, added eight points. Berdiel dished out a game-high seven assists and Howard added two steals.
Valpo travels to Central Michigan to play the Chippewas on Tuesday beginning at 6:30 p.m. CT (7:30 p.m. ET).