Valparaiso held Mid-American Conference preseason favorite Western Michigan without a field goal for nearly 11 minutes spanning the two halves Wednesday night at the Athletics-Recreation Center, taking a one-point deficit and turning it into a 14-point lead as the Crusaders downed the Broncos, 77-65. It marked the second straight game that Valpo has defeated a conference favorite.
“It was really exciting to pick up our ninth home win in a row and defend the ARC tonight against a very tough Western Michigan team,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “I thought our depth was really key tonight, as we got good minutes from all nine players who played and they all scored for us. Being able to move guys in and out of the line up was a big factor in keeping us fresh down the stretch.”
The opening stages of the game were closely contested, and Western Michigan led by one at 20-19 with 7:57 to play in the half after a Michael Redell 3-pointer. Neither team would score for the next two minutes, until Shawn Huff (Helsinki, Finland/Makelanrinne) drained a trifecta on Valpo’s third 3-point attempt of the possession to give the Crusaders a two-point lead.
Huff converted a layup on Valpo’s next possession to extend the lead to four. Western Michigan answered with two free throws, but Urule Igbavboa (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan) responded with a dunk to move the lead to 26-22. Huff drilled another three the next time down to make it a seven-point game. The Broncos converted on two more free throws, but this time it was Howard Little’s (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) turn to answer, as the freshman hit a 3-pointer to make it 32-24.
Igbavboa gave Valpo a double-digit lead for the first time with a layup with 1:22 to play in the half. Western Michigan looked to keep the deficit manageable going into the break after hitting two more attempts from the charity stripe, but Huff hit his third triple of the half, followed by a 3-pointer from Jarryd Loyd (Lincolnwood, Ill./Niles West) with 12 seconds to play in the opening stanza to give the Crusaders a 40-26 advantage at the break.
“The run in the last few minutes of the first half was crucial,” said Drew. “We really did a great job locking down defensively, and on offense, we did a good job moving the ball and getting open looks, and Howard, Jarryd and Shawn all stepped up to hit some clutch shots during that time.”
The Crusaders extended their advantage to as many as 17 points in the early portion of the second half before Western Michigan got a field goal from Martelle McLemore with 17:09 to play to snap its 10:48 drought from the floor. Valpo maintained a double-digit lead for most of the remainder of the game, answering immediately on three occasions when the Broncos cut the advantage to single digits. WMU cut the lead to nine with 1:43 to play, but Brandon McPherson (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) stepped up and hit four consecutive free throws to clinch the victory.
“It was nice to see us respond to (Western Michigan) in the second half,” said Drew. “Every time they made a run at us, we responded, whether it was a drive by Jarryd or a 3-pointer by Jake Diebler (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky) or an offensive rebound and putback by Shawn. I was also proud to see Brandon step up and hit some clutch free throws near the end of the game.”
Huff led all scorers on the night with 19 points, and was especially efficient, hitting 6-of-7 shots from the floor, including 3-of-4 from behind the arc. Igbavboa joined Huff in double digits with 15 points, connecting on 6-of-8 field goal attempts. He also tied for team-high rebounding honors, grabbing seven boards, as did Diebler, who set a new career high with his seven caroms. Loyd contributed in all areas, scoring nine points while also grabbing three rebounds, dishing out seven assists and registering two steals. The seven assists marked the most that Loyd has recorded over the last three seasons.
Western Michigan (4-3) was led by 16 points from Joe Reitz, who was a perfect 8-for-8 from the foul line. Three other Broncos reached double figures in the scoring column as well. Valpo held Western Michigan to just 19 field goals on 36.5% shooting, but the Broncos stayed in the game with a 22-of-31 performance from the charity stripe. The Crusaders, on the other hand, connected on a season-best 57.8% (26-of-45) of their field goal attempts, and knocked down 11 3-pointers on 47.8% accuracy.
Valparaiso (5-1) matched its best record through six games under Drew, and will look to move to 6-1 for the first time since the 1998-99 campaign when the Crusaders host Ball State on Saturday night at the ARC. Tipoff is set for 7:30 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) or online at www.valpo.edu/athletics. The game will also be telecast throughout Chicagoland on Lakeshore Public Television, and can be seen online through the Horizon League Network at www.horizonleaguenetwork.tv.