Valparaiso connected on 12 of its 16 3-point attempts and jumped out to a 13-point lead just five minutes in on its way to an easy 78-60 win over Western Illinois in Macomb, Ill. Thursday night.
Brandon McPherson (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) and Shawn Huff (Helsinki, Finland/Makelanrinne) combined for 13 of Valpo's first 17 points, with McPherson's second triple of the ballgame pushing the lead out to 17-4. The Leathernecks hit back-to-back buckets to cut the lead back to single digits, but the Crusaders ran out on another 16-2 run to make their lead 33-10 with 8:35 to play in the first stanza.
Huff nailed another 3-pointer, Valpo's seventh of the ballgame, less than a minute later to give Valpo its largest lead at 36-12. The Crusaders would not score for another five minutes, enabling Western Illinois to go on an 8-0 run, but Samuel Haanpaa (Kerava, Finland/Cornerstone [Texas] Christian) capped off the opening stanza with a putback at the buzzer to give Valpo a 39-22 halftime lead.
The Crusaders maintained their lead for most of the second half, with Western Illinois closing to within 10 points on just two occasions. Both times, Valpo answered with an 8-0 run to extend the lead back out to 18. The last time the Leathernecks were that close, Haanpaa nailed his fifth triple of the ballgame and followed with a layup on Valpo's next possession to close out the game.
Haanpaa matched Valpo's season high and set a new career high with 24 points, connecting on 7-of-10 shots from the field, including 5-of-6 from behind the arc. The freshman is averaging 19.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game over the Crusaders' last three games, while shooting the ball at a 79% clip from 3-point range and 72% overall.
Huff and McPherson joined Haanpaa in double digits for Valpo. Huff scored 18 points, connecting on each of his first seven shots while also pulling down a game-high eight rebounds. McPherson added 16 points, grabbed four rebounds, and dished out a career-best seven assists with just two turnovers.
David Jackson was the only Western Illinois (4-15, 0-5 Mid-Con) player to reach double figures, scoring 16 points, but connecting on just 5-of-14 shots. Jackson also paced the Leathernecks with six rebounds, while Sammy Hunter handed out six assists in the losing effort.
Valpo used its 75% shooting from behind the arc to shoot at a 54.5% (24-of-44) clip for the game. The Crusaders did struggle shooting free throws early on, but hit 12 of their last 13 attempts from the charity stripe to finish at 69.2% (18-of-26) for the game. Western Illinois, meanwhile, hit just 36.8% (21-of-57) of its shots and just 6-of-21 (28.6%) from downtown.
The Crusaders held a distinct 38-29 advantage on the glass over the Leathernecks, their second-best rebounding margin of the year. Valpo also dished out 19 assists, led by McPherson's seven and four from Jake Diebler (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky), who also registered four steals, tying his career high.
Valparaiso (8-10, 3-2 Mid-Con) moved into third place in the league with Thursday's victory. The Crusaders will return to the court on Monday when they step out of conference action to host IPFW, who they defeated 75-67 earlier this season in Fort Wayne. Opening tip at the Athletics-Recreation Center is set for 7:05 p.m., and as always, 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.