Cleveland State held Valparaiso to just five first-half field goals Tuesday evening in both team’s Horizon League opener to open a 17-point halftime lead and went on to defeat the Crusaders, 66-42, in Cleveland, Ohio.
“You really have to credit Cleveland State’s defense tonight,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “They forced us to run our offense farther out than we would have liked, pressured the ball extremely well and kept us from getting many easy shots at the basket.”
The game opened slowly from a scoring perspective, as a jumper in the lane by Urule Igbavboa (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan) 7:31 into the game brought Valpo back to within two points at 6-4. But the Vikings would explode for a 14-0 run over the game’s next 4:16, led by five points from J’Nathan Bullock and four from D’Aundray Brown, to go ahead 20-4 with just 8:13 remaining in the first half.
The Crusaders responded, however, getting an 8-0 run over a one-minute span. Igbavboa converted a three-point play around the media timeout with 7:24 remaining in the opening stanza, and fellow senior Jake Diebler (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky) knocked down a triple on Valpo’s next possession. Sophomore Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) came up big on the defensive end next time down, stepping in front of a Viking pass and going the length of the floor for a dunk to cut Cleveland State’s advantage to 20-12 with 6:25 to play in the half.
But that was as close as the Crusaders would get, as the Vikings closed the opening 20 minutes on an 11-2 run. Bullock had nine of Cleveland State’s points during the final 6:25, while Norris Cole added a layup to push the advantage up to 19 points. Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) converted on a pair of free throws with 28 seconds to play to cut the Viking advantage to 31-14 at the break.
The second half began along the same lines as the end of the first half, as Cleveland State came out of the break with the first eight points to extend its advantage to 25. Valpo scored the next four points to quell the Vikings’ momentum, and finally cut the CSU lead to under 20 on a triple by Little with 13:44 to play. The Vikings responded immediately with eight straight points, however, with a Brown layup giving them their biggest lead at 52-25 with 12:36 remaining.
Valparaiso had one last run left in it, as Little converted on layups on back-to-back possessions to kick off the spurt. After a Viking free throw, Little hit a 3-pointer to bring the lead down to 21 points. After the sophomore took a charge on the defensive end, fellow sophomore Rogers knocked down a triple of his own. Little added another fast-break layup during the 13-1 run, capped by an Igbavboa free throw with 6:47 to play to bring the Crusaders to within 53-38. The Vikings would score the next nine points, however, to close out the victory.
Little led the Crusaders with 14 points, his first double-figure scoring output of the season, but he was the only Valpo player to reach double figures. The sophomore also registered a game-high three steals. Freshman De’Andre Haskins (Long Beach, Calif./La Lumiere [Ind.] School) led the Crusader effort on the boards with seven rebounds.
Bullock hit ten of his 13 shots from the field on his way to a game-best 29 points. Norris Cole added 12 points for Cleveland State (5-2, 1-0 Horizon), while Brown chipped in ten points for the Vikings.
Valparaiso (2-4, 0-1 Horizon) closes out the brief foray into December league play on Thursday evening when it takes on Youngstown State in Youngstown, Ohio. Tipoff is set for 6:05 p.m. CST, and all the action can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network (WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso; WAKE, 1500 AM, Valparaiso; WEFM, 95.9 FM, Michigan City; WWLO, 89.1 FM, Lowell) and online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have links for live statistics and video.