Valparaiso nailed six of its first seven shots from the field in the second half, extending a five-point halftime lead into double figures on its way to an 80-56 victory over Western Illinois Thursday night at the Athletics-Recreation Center. With the victory, head coach Homer Drew registered his 300th win at the helm of the Crusader program.
Drew now holds a 300-238 (.558) record in his 18 seasons as head coach at Valparaiso, including a 264-135 (.662) mark in the last 13 years. Drew's 300 wins at Valpo are 101 more than any other Mid-Con coach in the 25-year history of the conference. In his 30th season as a head coach, Drew is 569-360 (.612) overall, with his 569 wins ranking 10th among all active Division I head coaches.
The Crusaders held just a 31-26 advantage at the intermission, due in large part to 13 first-half turnovers. But Valpo forced Western Illinois into 11 turnovers of its own in the opening stanza, and the Crusaders utilized 12-of-15 shooting from the charity stripe in the first 20 minutes to take the lead.
Valpo came out of the locker room on fire in the second half, however. Senior Moussa Mbaye (Dakar, Senegal/Life Center [N.J.] Academy) hit two shots to open the half on his way to a career-high 10 points. Shawn Huff (Helsinki, Finland/Makelanrinne) nailed a triple just two minutes into the half to extend the Crusader lead to double digits for the first time.
Huff added another 3-pointer and Mbaye another layup before Urule Igbavboa (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan) drove from the top of the key for a layup of his own with 14:53 to play to make the Valpo lead 45-31. The lead would remain in double figures for the next few minutes before the Crusaders put together one more run to slam the door for good.
Troy Okeson's jumper cut the lead back down to 52-37 with 10:22 to play before Valpo started its spurt. Samuel Haanpaa (Kerava, Finland/Cornerstone [Texas] Christian) answered with his second 3-pointer of the game on Valpo's next possession to extend the lead to 18.
Two possessions later, Jake Diebler (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky) came up with a steal, leading to a picture-perfect two-on-one fast break between Jarryd Loyd (Lincolnwood, Ill./Niles West) and Brandon McPherson (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North). Loyd took the outlet past halfcourt from Diebler and dished to McPherson, who gave it right back to Loyd without taking a dribble. Loyd immediately touch-passed it back to McPherson for the easy layup, extending the Valpo lead to 20.
After a Western Illinois basket, Haanpaa got to the free throw line on each of the Crusaders' next two possessions, hitting all four freebies to make the lead 22. McPherson added another fast-break layup on Valpo's next possession, and by the time Haanpaa nailed his third triple of the ballgame with 6:38 to play, the Crusaders had blown the game open, leading 68-40.
Haanpaa came off the bench for the first time in over a month and had a stellar game, leading the Crusaders with 18 points and also grabbing six rebounds. Huff hit three 3-pointers on his way to 14 points, while McPherson added 13 to go along with Mbaye's 10 points. Igbavboa chipped in nine points and 10 rebounds, his ninth double-figure effort on the boards this year. Loyd dished out a season-high six assists, while Diebler distributed four assists and came up with three steals.
Xavier Price led the Leathernecks with 13 points, but was their only player to reach double figures. Morris Smith came off the bench to grab five rebounds and record five assists for Western Illinois (6-21, 2-10 Mid-Con).
Valparaiso shot 69.2% (18-of-26) in the second half on its way to a 56.3% (27-of-48) performance for the game, the second-best shooting percentage this season by the Crusaders. Valpo recorded 21 assists on its 27 baskets and out-rebounded Western Illinois by a 33-25 margin. Both teams committed 18 turnovers, but the Crusaders held a significant 22-8 edge in points off of turnovers.
Valparaiso (14-13, 7-5 Mid-Con) plays its final non-conference game of the regular season Saturday afternoon, traveling to Kalamazoo, Mich. to take on Western Michigan in a game derived from the O'Reilly ESPNU BracketBusters pool. Opening tip is scheduled for 3 p.m. Central time, 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.