Valparaiso used a balanced scoring attack to pull away from Grace in the second half Monday night at the Athletics-Recreation Center, as the Crusaders outscored the Lancers by 24 points over the final 20 minutes to earn a 90-59 victory. Seven different Crusaders scored at least eight points in the winning effort, which extended Valpo’s home winning streak to eight games dating back to last season.
“I was proud to see us extend our home winning streak tonight,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “We really had great energy and hustle in the second half and did a good job getting physical inside to take away their easy baskets.”
The Lancers, who entered the game ranked 13th in the nation in NAIA Division II, played with the Crusaders for much of the first half. While Valpo led almost the entire way, Grace cut the deficit to two points at 34-32 with 4:29 to play in the opening stanza. The Crusaders responded with an 11-2 run, getting points from four different players during the spurt, to extend the advantage to 45-34 with 1:33 left. Grace scored the final four points going into halftime, however, cutting Valpo’s lead to 45-38 at the intermission.
Grace’s Michael Wienhorst hit a trifecta coming out of the break to bring the lead down to 45-41, but the Crusaders started firing on all cylinders to quickly extend the advantage. Brandon McPherson (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) kicked off the run with a layup and back-to-back 3-pointers, bringing the lead to 53-41. After two baskets by Grace, Urule Igbavboa (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan) hit a free throw, followed by a 3-pointer from Jarryd Loyd (Lincolnwood, Ill./Niles West) to extend the edge back to 12 points at the 15:19 mark.
Shawn Huff (Helsinki, Finland/Makelanrinne) continued the run with a basket on Valpo’s next possession, followed by a trifecta from Samuel Haanpää (Kerava, Finland/Cornerstone [Texas] Christian). Following two free throws by the Lancers, Loyd knocked down another three, and when Haanpää hit two attempts from the charity stripe with 12:37 to play, Valpo’s lead was up to 20 points at 67-47. The Crusaders would not let the lead fall below 17 the rest of the way as they went on to the victory.
Valpo’s balanced production started with its three seniors. Huff struggled shooting the basketball, hitting just 4-of-12 shots for nine points, but more than made up for it in other departments, setting a career high with seven assists and matching career bests with eight rebounds and two steals. Loyd tied his career-high output with 14 points in 23 minutes off the bench. He also grabbed five rebounds and dished out four assists, while Calum MacLeod (Wellington, New Zealand/Hutt Valley [Northeastern J.C.]) chipped in nine points in 13 minutes of action.
Haanpää led the Crusaders in scoring with 15 points while also tallying five rebounds. The sophomore got to the charity stripe eight times, hitting a career-best seven free throws. McPherson poured in 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting, while freshman Bryan Bouchie (Washington, Ind./Washington) scored 11 second-half points in his Crusader debut. Igbavboa also contributed eight points and six rebounds to the Valpo effort.
Grace (2-1) was led by 11 points from Marcus Moore. The Lancers also placed two other players in double figures, as Wienhorst and David Henry recorded ten points apiece. Eric Gaff paced the Lancers with eight rebounds.
Valpo hit just 46.4% (32-of-69) of its shots, but grabbed 18 offensive rebounds on its way to a 48-37 edge in the rebounding category. The Crusaders held Grace to 32.8% (19-of-58) shooting on the night. Valpo dished out 17 assists to just 10 turnovers and came up with 11 steals, spearheaded by three from Jake Diebler (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky).
“I thought as a team, we really showed some good improvement tonight, both from last game to this game, and then within this game, from the first half to the second half,” said Drew. “We really worked on cutting down turnovers and grabbing rebounds in practice after our exhibition game, and it was nice to see our improvement in those areas tonight.”
Valparaiso (1-0) returns to the hardwood on Thursday, as the Crusaders make the trip down to Fort Wayne to take on IPFW. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. CST, 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.