Valparaiso cut Cleveland State’s lead to as few as four points on multiple occasions in the second half Saturday night in Cleveland, Ohio, but the Vikings would not let the Crusaders get any closer and went on to win by a 69-63 count.
“You have to give Cleveland State a lot of credit tonight,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “They’re a very athletic and physical team, and they did a great job defensively of pressuring us on the perimeter and taking us out of our offense.”
Cleveland State took the lead immediately, knocking down shots on three of its first four possessions to take an early 7-2 advantage. Valpo came back and tied the game twice in the opening half, the second time coming at 16-16 with 8:41 remaining in the stanza. The Vikings answered with a 6-0 spurt to open up a six-point lead and eventually took a seven-point lead into the half at 30-23.
Coming out of the locker room to start the second half, Jake Diebler (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky) hit a 3-pointer to cut the Viking advantage to four points. Cleveland State responded with six straight points to extend the lead to double digits for the first time with 17:24 remaining, but Valpo’s Shawn Huff (Helsinki, Finland/Makelanrinne) hit back-to-back triples for the Crusaders to bring the team back to within 36-32.
The Vikings answered with another 6-0 spurt to extend the lead back to double digits, and the advantage would remain between seven and ten points for the next few minutes. A Jarryd Loyd (Lincolnwood, Ill./Niles West) layup brought the lead back down to six points at 49-43 with 10:23 remaining, but once again Cleveland State responded with six straight points of its own to push the advantage back into double figures.
Cleveland State’s last successful field goal came on a triple with 6:34 remaining, making it a 58-48 ballgame. Brandon McPherson (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) countered immediately with a 3-pointer of his own, and after the Vikings split a pair of free throws, the junior converted a tip-in on the offensive end to slice the lead back down to six points. But the Vikings got to the free throw line down the stretch, hitting 10 free throws over the final six minutes to keep Valpo at bay.
Huff paced the Crusaders with 14 points, knocking down four of his seven attempts from behind the arc, while also adding a team-best six rebounds. McPherson added 12 points, but was the only other Valpo player to reach double figures. He also dished out four assists, while Loyd came off the bench with five helpers.
Cedric Jackson led Cleveland State (14-5, 7-0 Horizon) with 16 points, going 9-of-12 from the charity stripe. Chris Moore used 6-of-9 shooting to score 12 points, while J’Nathan Bullock added 11 points and seven rebounds. The Vikings hit 44.9% of their field goal attempts to the Crusaders’ 43.6%, while Valpo connected on nine more triples than the hosts. Cleveland State enjoyed a distinct advantage from the charity stripe, going to the line 30 times and hitting 22 free throws versus Valpo’s 6-of-7 effort from the line.
Valparaiso (13-6, 4-3 Horizon) starts a three-game league homestand next Thursday, as the Crusaders host UIC at the Athletics-Recreation Center. Tipoff is set for 7:05 p.m., and 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; WWLO, 89.1 FM, Lowell) or online at www.valpo.edu/athletics. The game will also be broadcast throughout Chicagoland on Lakeshore Public Television, and can also be viewed online through the Horizon League Network.