Ahead by just two at the half, Valparaiso stormed out of the gate in the second half with a 23-4 run and rolled from there, finishing the night with an 85-63 victory over Elmhurst in an exhibition game at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
“This was a good game for us tonight,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “We were able to play all of our guys and try some different combinations with all the new faces we have.”
The Division III Blue Jays hung around with the Crusaders in the first half and led on multiple occasions early on. With Elmhurst ahead 17-15 midway through the first half, Valpo went on an 11-2 spurt, started by a jumper from De’Andre Haskins (Long Beach, Calif./La Lumiere [Ind.] School), over a span of 3:35 to take a 26-19 lead. Urule Igbavboa (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan) and Logan Jones (Madison, Ind./Madison) each chipped in baskets during the run, which Haskins capped with a fast-break jumper followed by a 3-pointer on back-to-back possessions to give the Crusaders their largest lead of the opening stanza.
Elmhurst would not go away quietly, however, fighting back and again tying the score briefly at 31 with 2:46 to play in the first. A pair of free throws by Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) put the Crusaders ahead for good, but the Blue Jays’ Brent Ruch kept it a two-point game at the half at 38-36 with a layup on their final possession.
The start of the second half was a different story, though. Erik Buggs (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell) recorded a steal on Elmhurst’s opening possession and started a fast-break which was finished by a layup from Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian). Little quickly followed with an offensive rebound and layup on the Crusaders’ next possession as Valpo started to pull away.
After the teams traded a pair of points, Little got out ahead of everybody for a fast-break basket to extend the lead to eight. The Blue Jays missed their next shot and it was Buggs who came down with the rebound and found Igbavboa for the bucket on the break. A tip-in by Ruch slowed Valpo’s momentum and cut the lead back down to eight at 48-40 with 16:19, where it would remain for the next minute and a half.
Haskins broke the scoring drought in a big way, knocking down a trifecta with 14:39 to play to push Valpo’s advantage back into double figures. After a Blue Jay miss, it was again Haskins hitting the triple off a feed from Jake Diebler (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky) to extend the lead to 14 points.
The next time down the floor, Diebler took his turn for a 3-pointer as Igbavboa found the senior open to make it a 17-point game with 12:47 to play. Benjamin Fumey (Bremen, Germany/Freie Hansestadt) and Little each added a pair of free throws, with Little’s capping the 21-4 run over the first 8:36 of the second half as Valpo went ahead 61-40. The Crusaders would never lead by less than 15 points the rest of the way.
“I thought we gave up too many first-half points, but that we did a much better job defensively in the second half,” said Drew. “Erik really set the tone with his defensive pressure, creating steals and opportunities for us to run up and down the floor. I really thought the turning point of the game was when De’Andre hit his back-to-back threes and then Jake hit a three of his own.”
Igbavboa paced three Crusaders in double figures with 18 points to go with a team-best seven rebounds. Haskins connected on all five of his shots from the field, three from behind the arc, for 15 points off the bench, while Fumey went 5-of-6 from the floor for 13 points. Buggs and Rogers tied for team-high honors with four steals apiece.
Ruch led all players with 19 points and nine rebounds for Elmhurst. Ryan Burks chipped in 17 points for the visiting Blue Jays.
Valparaiso kicks off regular season play next Saturday, November 15, at the ARC as the Crusaders host Marian College. 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; WAKE, 1500 AM, Valparaiso; WEFM, 95.9 FM, Michigan City; WWLO, 89.1 FM, Lowell) and online at www.valpoathletics.com. The official Crusader website will also have links for live video and statistics.