The Crusaders won for the first time in 12 games in the city of Tulsa, Okla. and advanced to the semi-finals of the Mid-Continent Conference Tournament Sunday night, downing Southern Utah 77-66 at John Q. Hammons Arena at the UMAC.
The evening started slowly, with the two teams combining for only 17 points in the first 10 minutes. Then, with the score tied at 11 and 9:00 remaining in the half, Ron Howard
(Chicago, Ill./Whitney Young) ignited a Crusader run. The senior drained a three-pointer from the corner to put Valpo in front and, 90 seconds later, converted a steal into a breakout dunk to extend the lead to 20-11.
The Crusaders led for the remainder of the half, going up by as much as 10 before the Thunderbirds trimmed the margin to 31-25 at halftime. Dan Oppland
(Saint Louis, Mo./Whitfield) led Valpo with 11 points while Howard chipped in eight. The Crusaders shot 43.8% in the first half and turned it over only five times, forcing nine Southern Utah giveaways.
After a Thunderbird basket to open the second half, Howard again sparked Valpo, scoring five points in a 15-4 Crusader run that gave the Brown and Gold their biggest lead of the night, 46-31 with 14:18 to go in the game. But Steve Barnes would not let Southern Utah go lightly, ripping off five quick points to get his club back within 10 at 48-38.
With the Crusaders ahead 51-40 and under 12 minutes left, the Thunderbirds mounted their charge. Three-pointers from Henry Uhegwu and Rand Janes sandwiched a Nate Janes dunk, bringing the Valpo lead back to 54-50, their smallest since the opening minute of the half.
But Howard again scored when his team needed it, dropping in a transition layup to temper the Southern Utah offense, and two minutes later Jarryd Loyd
(Lincolnwood, Ill./Niles West) drilled his second three-pointer of the night to put the Crusaders back up 63-51. Valpo never looked back.
(Country Club Hills, Ill./Rich Central) played his best game of the year, filling out his line with 10 points, a career-high eight rebounds, four assists and one turnover. Along with Miles, each of Valpo's other four starters also reached double-figures, with Oppland pacing the bunch with a game-high 17 points and nine rebounds. Howard tallied 12 points, Mohamed Kone
(Lyon, France/Jean Paul Sartre) had 14 points and a career-high five blocked shots, and Loyd added 14 of his own, matching a career high.
The Crusaders shot 49.2% from the floor, 44.4% from three-point range, and connected on 11-of-15 free throws. Valpo out-rebounded Southern Utah for the first time this year, beating the Thunderbirds 36-30 on the glass.
Henry Uhegwu scored 15 points to lead the Thunderbirds (10-20) who saw their season come to an end Sunday night. Barnes added 14 points and seven assists and Justin Allen had 12 off the bench.
Valpo (17-11) will meet regular season champion and top-seeded Oral Roberts Monday night at 6:00 p.m. for the right to play for the conference championship on Tuesday. The Crusaders and Golden Eagles split a pair of regular season meetings, with each team winning on their home court. That game can be seen live throughout Chicagoland on WYIN 56, and heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network and online at www.valpo.edu/athletics.