Brandon McPherson's (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) 3-pointer with 7:28 to play put Valparaiso ahead for good, and the Crusaders held on to make their return to the Athletics-Recreation Center a victorious one, defeating Chicago State Saturday night, 67-64.
Valpo, which was playing its first home game in over a month, took the lead for the eighth and final time in the game on the McPherson triple. Moussa Mbaye (Dakar, Senegal/Life Center [N.J.] Academy) followed with a block and rebound on defense, and Shawn Huff (Helsinki, Finland/Makelanrinne) converted a 3-point play to put the Crusaders up by five.
The lead was extended to as many as nine points with 2:37 to play before the Cougars started to come back. Royce Parran came up with a rare 4-point play for the visitors to cut the Crusader lead to 65-60, and after a turnover on the inbounds play, John Cantrell hit two out of three free throws to cut the deficit to three.
Valpo misfired on 3-pointers on its next two possessions, and Parran hit a runner in the lane with 53 seconds to play to make it a 65-64 game. But Parran was stripped on Chicago State's next possession by McPherson, who hit two free throws for the final margin. The Cougars got two shots up on their final possession, but neither one found the bottom of the net.
The first half was contested tightly for the first 10 minutes, before CSU went on a quick 7-0 spurt to take a 26-19 lead with 6:47 to play in the half. The Cougars extended the margin to as much as 11 before Samuel Haanpaa (Kerava, Finland/Cornerstone [Texas] Christian) nailed two triples in the closing stages of the half to help Valpo cut the halftime deficit to one point.
Huff led a balanced Crusader offense with 17 points, his highest output in the last eight games. Haanpaa finished with 14 points, including four 3-pointers, in his first career start, while McPherson added 13 points, his seventh double-digit performance in Valpo's last eight contests. Jake Diebler (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky) chipped in nine points, while Mbaye contributed eight points.
Mbaye also grabbed a game-high nine rebounds, tying his career high. Diebler also matched his career high with six caroms, while Huff pulled down six boards of his own, helping Valpo to a 32-27 advantage on the glass. McPherson dished out a game-best five assists without turning the ball over, as the Crusaders cut their turnovers down to 16.
Royce Parran paced four Cougars in double figures with 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Michael Henderson chipped in 14 points for Chicago State (5-12), while Kourtney Calvin had 12 and John Cantrell posted 10 points off of the bench.
Valpo shot 42.6% (23-of-54) from the floor and hit just 34.6% (9-of-26) from behind the arc. The Crusaders did continue their improved free throw shooting, nailing 12-of-16 (75.0%) attempts from the charity stripe. Valpo also held a 20-16 edge in points off turnovers, the first time since the IPFW game the Crusaders have come out on top in the category.
Valparaiso (5-8) begins its final Mid-Continent Conference slate next Thursday, January 4, as the Crusaders travel to Shreveport, La. to take on Centenary. Opening tip is set for 7 p.m., and all the action can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network (WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso; WEFM, 95.9 FM, Michigan City; WAKE, 1500 AM, Valparaiso) and online at www.valpo.edu/athletics.