Valparaiso never trailed Thursday night at the Allen County Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Ind., taking a nine-point halftime lead over IPFW and going on to defeat the Mastodons, 74-64.
“I think this game really showed how much of a strength our depth is,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “We had nine guys play at least ten minutes, eight of which scored between seven and ten points. We really got good contributions from everybody who played for us.”
The Crusaders jumped out to a quick 14-8 lead less than four minutes into the contest on the strength of five early points from Samuel Haanpää (Kerava, Finland/Cornerstone [Texas] Christian). With the lead still at six a few minutes later, IPFW scored five points on two possessions to cut its deficit to one at 20-19 with 11:38 to play in the half.
Valpo would not let the Mastodons take the lead, however, going on a 15-4 spurt over the next six minutes to extend the edge to double digits. Five different Crusaders scored during the run, led by five points from freshman Bryan Bouchie (Washington, Ind./Washington), to give Valpo a 35-23 lead with under six minutes to play in the opening stanza. The Crusaders went on to hold a 39-30 halftime lead.
Coming out of the locker room after halftime, IPFW quickly scored six points to cut the Valpo advantage to three points at 39-36, forcing Drew to take a timeout. After a two-minute span where neither team scored, Jake Diebler (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky) came up with a diving steal and, from his back, found Shawn Huff (Helsinki, Finland/Makelanrinne) for a three-point play on a fast break dunk.
The lead fluctuated between five and nine points for the next few minutes before a Jarryd Loyd (Lincolnwood, Ill./Niles West) 3-pointer gave the Crusaders a 12-point lead with 11 minutes to play. IPFW made a charge, cutting the lead back down to seven on a trifecta from Jakari Johnson, but freshman Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) hit a 3-pointer on Valpo’s next possession to push the advantage back up to double figures at 57-47 with 8:50 to play. A fast-break layup off of a steal by Diebler less than a minute later put the Crusader lead back into double digits for good.
“I thought there were three big plays from the standpoint of momentum,” said Drew. “Jake’s steal and pass to Shawn for the dunk came at a time when IPFW was making a run and we were getting lethargic, and we needed something to inspire us. Howard’s 3-pointer was key as well, answering after IPFW cut the lead to seven. Then Jarryd hit two big free throws for us in the late stages to keep IPFW from getting any closer.”
Diebler and Loyd tied for team-high scoring honors with ten points apiece. The Crusaders’ balanced attack, which featured no player making more than three shots from the field, received nine points each from Haanpää and Calum MacLeod (Wellington, New Zealand/Hutt Valley [Northeastern J.C.]), eight points apiece from Bouchie, Huff and Little, and seven points from Urule Igbavboa (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan).
Valpo’s balance could also be seen in the rebounding category, as Igbavboa paced the squad with four caroms. Huff, Little, Loyd, and MacLeod each grabbed three rebounds as well. Diebler led all players with six assists, setting a new career-high in the category, while also tallying two steals.
Four of IPFW’s (0-2) starters reached double figures, with Jakari Johnson leading all players with 18 points and six rebounds. Jaraun Burrows put up 15 points and six boards, while Demetrius Johnson and DeWitt Scott each poured in 13 points. But the Mastodons got only five points from their bench players, compared to 35 bench points for Valpo.
The Crusaders hit 50% (24-of-48) of their shots from the field and were even more successful behind the arc, hitting 60% (9-of-15). IPFW led Valpo by one in the rebounding category, 29-28, but the Crusaders dished out 13 assists and committed just ten turnovers.
Valparaiso (2-0) continues its four-game swing away from home next week, as the Crusaders travel to Vanderbilt for a South Padre Island Invitational game against the Commodores in Nashville, Tenn. Tipoff 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).