Valparaiso held a 20-19 lead over Houston halfway through the first half of the two squads’ College Basketball Invitational quarterfinal matchup Monday evening in Houston, Texas, but the Cougars took the lead shortly thereafter and led the rest of the way, eventually earning a 91-67 victory.
“I was very proud of our team tonight,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “We played hard and improved our efficiency in the second half. We got off to a good start in the first half, but you just have to credit Houston. They’re a very athletic team, very long and they can get up and down the court.”
Houston held an early 5-2 lead before Valparaiso went on a quick 8-0 spurt to claim a five-point lead. Brandon McPherson (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) kick-started the run with a 3-pointer just over two minutes into the game, and on Valpo’s next trip down the court, Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) got a putback on an offensive rebound to put Valpo up two.
The Crusaders’ next possession resulted in a triple by Urule Igbavboa (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan) which gave Valpo a 10-5 advantage, which would ultimately be its largest lead of the game. The Cougars responded with an 8-2 run of their own to take a 13-12 lead, the first of five lead changes over the next few minutes as the two teams stayed locked in a tight battle.
Robert McKiver knocked down a triple with 12:39 remaining in the opening half to give Houston an 18-16 lead, but Shawn Huff (Helsinki, Finland/Makelanrinne) responded with a three of his own to put Valpo back in front. Just under three minutes later, Igbavboa knocked down a free throw to put Valpo ahead 20-19, but that would be the last time the Crusaders led, as Houston reeled off 26 of the half’s final 38 points to take a 45-32 lead into the break.
Another Huff triple briefly cut the lead to ten to open the second half, but the Crusaders could not get the lead into single digits, as Houston answered with the next five points to push the lead back up to 15. The Cougars extended their edge throughout the second half on the back of 9-of-17 shooting from behind the 3-point line in the stanza.
Igbavboa led the Crusaders with 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting and also pulled down a team-best seven rebounds, finishing the season with 263 boards, seventh-most in a single campaign in Valpo history. Senior Jarryd Loyd (Lincolnwood, Ill./Niles West) scored 15 points off the bench in his final collegiate game. McPherson added 11 points off the bench, while Rogers scored ten points and also grabbed seven boards.
McKiver paced Houston (24-9) with 33 points, including six makes from behind the arc, while Kelvin Lewis knocked down seven triples on his way to 28 points. Tafari Toney posted a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds in the winning effort for the Cougars.
The loss ends the Crusaders’ season with a 22-14 record, the most wins by a Valpo team in the last six years. The Crusaders earned their first postseason berth in four seasons and closed out the season with seven wins in the last nine games. Valpo also defeated a BCS conference opponent on its home court for the first time since 1971 when it beat Washington last Wednesday.
The loss ends the careers of seniors Huff, Loyd and Calum MacLeod (Wellington, New Zealand [Hutt Valley]). Huff closes the 2007-08 season with 91 triples, fifth-most in a season in Valpo history, on 47.9% accuracy from behind the arc, third in a season all-time at Valpo and among the nation’s top-five this year. For his career, he finished with 1,032 points, joining a select group of Crusaders to reach the 1,000-point milestone. Huff connected on 170 3-pointers, sixth-most in Crusader history, and hit 43.5% of his 3-point attempts, tied for second all-time at Valpo with current associate head coach Bryce Drew.
Loyd finished his four-year career with 930 points and 405 assists, becoming one of just four players in Valpo history to register at least 400 helpers during his career. He also appeared in 121 career games, among the top-ten Crusaders all-time in the category. Loyd’s 143 assists this season also rank tenth in a single season in Valpo history. MacLeod closes out his two years having appeared in 49 games while scoring 185 points and grabbing 90 rebounds.