Valparaiso improved to 2-0 for the fourth consecutive season, taking the lead just over three minutes into the game and holding it the rest of the way, defeating UCF 69-52 Tuesday evening at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
Valpo was led both offensively and on the boards by senior Urule Igbavboa (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan), who registered a team-high 15 points and pulled down a game-best 14 rebounds for his first double-double of the season. He was joined by sophomore Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian), who tallied his second career double-double with ten points and 11 rebounds.
The Knights held the early lead briefly before an Erik Buggs (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell) layup jump-started a 16-3 Crusader run. Benjamin Fumey (Bremen, Germany/Freie Hansestadt) scored a team-best five points during the spurt, including a 3-pointer that capped the run with 9:40 to play in the opening half, pushing Valpo’s lead to 18-6. The lead hovered around ten points for the remainder of the half, and the Crusaders eventually took a nine-point lead at 30-21 into the break.
Valpo extended its advantage into double figures for good with a Buggs 3-pointer early in the second half, and was ahead by 14 at 44-30 with 10:42 to play when another run seemingly put away the game. Rogers started the run with a 3-point, and following a fast-break jumper by UCF’s Isaac Sosa, Buggs hit a pair of free throws to push the lead up to 17.
Following a defensive stop, Igbavboa got fouled on the other end and hit both of his attempts from the charity stripe. Buggs then registered a steal on UCF’s next possession and pushed the ball ahead to Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School), who went in all alone for a fast-break layup. After another defensive stop, it was Jake Diebler (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky) finding Igbavboa for a layup to give Valpo its biggest advantage at 55-32 with 8:25 to play.
The Knights had one last run left in them, however, as they cut Valpo’s advantage all the way down to 12 points late. The lead was at just 13 points at 60-47 with 3:10 remaining when Diebler was forced to throw up a desperation attempt from 25 feet to beat the shot clock. But his heave found the bottom of the net, closing out UCF’s last chance.
“I really thought that Jake’s shot was the key there at the end,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “UCF was on a nice run and putting some good pressure on us, and that shot stopped any momentum they had and gave us a nice cushion.”
Buggs joined the aforementioned duo in double figures with 11 points, while Fumey and Little added nine points each off the bench, the latter also grabbing seven rebounds. Diebler put together a solid all-around performance, registering eight points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals.
“This was really Erik’s best game yet,” said Drew. “He did a great job getting the ball into the offense, and on the defensive end, he put some great pressure on the ball and forced some big turnovers. I thought Howard and Mike’s offensive rebounding was also another big key for us, they kept alive some big possessions and gave us second opportunities.”
Jermaine Taylor led UCF (1-1) with a game-high 18 points, while A.J. Rompza was the only other Knight in double figures with ten points. Kenrick Zondervan pulled down a team-high seven rebounds.
Valparaiso (2-0) steps away from the ARC to travel down to the U.S. Virgin Islands to take part in the Paradise Jam. The Crusaders will kick off the tournament against San Diego at 2:30 p.m. CST on Friday afternoon, 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.