Six Crusader seniors left the Athletics-Recreation Center one final time as winners, bouncing Niagara 88-82 Saturday night in a game arranged through the BracketBusters presented by eBay pool.
(Decatur, Ind./Bellmont), Jim Hooper
(San Diego, Calif./Lutheran), Ron Howard
(Chicago, Ill./Whitney Young), Mohamed Kone
(Lyon, France/Jean Paul Sartre) and Dan Oppland
(Saint Louis, Mo./Whitfield) were honored before and after the game, with senior Ali Berdiel
(Ponce, Puerto Rico/Andrean) also playing his final home game after being recognized as a senior last year.
The game began with Hooper, a walk-on, in the starting lineup for the first time in his career, joining fellow seniors Berdiel, Howard, Kone and Oppland in the starting five. And after Lorenzo Miles drained a triple to make it 3-2 Niagara, the Crusaders used a 10-2 run to pull ahead 12-5, a lead they would never relinquish.
Oppland, the Crusaders' third-leading scorer and fourth-leading rebounder all-time, got off to a blazing start, piling up five points and nine rebounds in the first 8:14 of the game. Two minutes later, an Oppland steal led to a Howard three-pointer that gave the Brown and Gold their first double-digit lead at 22-12.
The lead hovered around double-figures much of the rest of the half before Colclasure, one of Valpo's all-time leading three-point shooters, knocked home a 26-foot triple with five seconds left to bring the Crusader lead to 42-28 at the break.
Oppland recorded a double-double in the first half, with 12 points and 10 rebounds, his fifth double-double of the season. Valpo shot 55.2% from the field in the first half and held the Purple Eagles to 30.0% shooting.
In the second half, however, the visitors started heating up, scoring the period's first nine points, capped by a Miles three-pointer to make in 42-37. But after a Valpo timeout, the Crusaders answered back, and took a 13-point lead on back-to-back three-pointers from Jimmie Miles
(Country Club Hills, Ill./Rich Central) and Howard.
The lead stayed at double-figures through most of the rest of the half, growing to 15 on a Kone jumper with 4:38 to go. But again Niagara would not wilt, getting a three-pointer from Clif Brown with 51 seconds left to pull within 84-78. Colclasure, however, calmly drained a pair of free throws on the next Valpo possession and the Crusaders held on from there.
Oppland finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds, scoring the 1,700th point of his career with 1:23 remaining. Now also with 744 rebounds, he's the only player in school history with at least 1,700 points and 700 rebounds. The Saint Louis native also had four assists, two steals and a blocked shot.
Three more Crusaders joined Oppland in double-figures, led by Howard's 15-point, 6-assist effort. Kone added 12 points and six rebounds, with Berdiel chipping in 10 points, four boards and four assists.
The Valpo bench also had a strong night, led by freshman Urule Igbavboa
(Saint Paul, Minn./Tartan) who scored nine points on 3-of-3 shooting in 11 minutes. Miles set a season-high with nine points and added three assists without a turnover and freshman Brandon McPherson
(Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) had his best effort of the season with a career-high seven points including his first career three-pointer. Colclasure, in his final home game drained a pair of three pointers and finished with eight points, as the Valpo reserves out-scored the Niagara bench 33-14.
As a team, the Brown and Gold shot 56.4% from the field and knocked down 9-of-16 three-pointers. Valpo also out-rebounded the Purple Eagles, statistically the 25th best rebounding team in the nation, 33-32 and dished out 21 assists against only 11 turnovers.
Brown led Niagara (10-15, 7-9 MAAC) with 32 points, including 25 in the second half, as five Purple Eagles reached double-figures. Niagara shot 56.8% in the second half to close the game at 44.8% from the field, but made only 9-of-30 three-pointers.
The Crusaders (16-9, 8-6) will play the rest of the year away from home, beginning with a crucial road swing next week. It starts Thursday night at UMKC with a 7:05 game against the Kangaroos, who stand one game ahead of Valpo in the Mid-Con standings. That game can be seen live throughout Chicagoland on WYIN 56 and WHME 46, and will be carried live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network and at www.valpo.edu/athletics.