Valparaiso placed three players in double figures and was within six points with 2:26 to play, but Southern Utah pulled away late for a 76-60 victory Saturday night in Cedar City, Utah.
The Crusaders found themselves down 13 with 5:05 left, but Brandon McPherson (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) hit two triples over the next 1:16 to pull Valpo within seven points. Steve Barnes hit two free throws for the Thunderbirds to extend their lead to 61-52 with 3:17 left, but Jake Diebler (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky) answered immediately with a layup.
Swaney Cooper split a pair of foul shots on Southern Utah's next possession to take the lead back up to eight. Shawn Huff (Helsinki, Finland/Makelanrinne) grabbed the miss on the second attempt and was fouled, draining both free throws to make it a 62-56 ballgame. Cooper once again split a pair of foul shots, and Jarryd Loyd (Lincolnwood, Ill./Niles West) had a chance to cut the lead to five.
Loyd hit the first shot and missed the second, and Justin Allen got a putback bucket on the ensuing Southern Utah possession, giving the T-Birds a 65-57 lead with 2:13 to go. Samuel Haanpaa (Kerava, Finland/Cornerstone [Texas] Christian) split a pair of attempts from the charity stripe on Valpo's next time down, but seven points was as close as the Crusaders could get.
Valpo's largest lead came just five minutes into the ballgame, as the Crusaders held an 8-4 advantage after a triple by Huff. Southern Utah tied it up two possessions later, and the teams traded baskets, until an Urule Igbavboa (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan) layup tied the game at 13 with 9:34 to go in the half. Southern Utah answered with an 11-0 run to extend the lead to double digits, and went into the half up 31-19.
McPherson led the Crusaders with 17 points, but connected on just 2-of-8 attempts from behind the arc, as Valpo shot just 21.7% (5-of-23) from downtown. Haanpaa scored 13 for Valpo, while Huff added 12. Haanpaa also grabbed a team-high six rebounds.
Orlando Griego led Southern Utah (14-8, 4-3 Mid-Con) with 19 points, while Barnes and Cooper chipped in 13 each. Griego pulled down seven rebounds for the T-Birds, while Barnes, the Mid-Con's leading assist man, dished out nine helpers.
Southern Utah hit at a 50% (25-of-50) clip from the field, compared to Valpo's 36.4% (20-of-55) effort. Both teams went to the foul line numerous times, with SUU converting on 22-of-30 attempts, while the Crusaders hit 15-of-22 shots from the line.
Valparaiso (10-11, 4-3 Mid-Con) returns home for a crucial conference weekend next Thursday night as the Crusaders play host to Mid-Con leader Oral Roberts. Opening tip is set for 7:05 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. The game will also be broadcast on Lakeshore Public Television, with a video webcast available online.