Valparaiso was within one point of Miami for a five-minute stretch of the second half and cut the RedHawks’ lead to three points with 7:49 remaining, but the Crusaders could not take the advantage, as Miami held off all of Valpo’s advances for a 62-50 victory Saturday afternoon in Oxford, Ohio.
“I thought today was definitely an improvement from Wednesday’s game,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “We played hard the entire game and made a number of plays that helped keep us within reach. You have to give credit to Miami, they’re a well-coached team with six seniors and they’re a team that has played a number of ranked teams extremely tough already this year.”
The game, a return matchup from last year’s epic ESPNU BracketBusters battle at the ARC, started out as a quick-paced back-and-forth affair, as both squads scored on each of their first two possessions just 76 seconds into the game. Miami locked down Valpo defensively over the next 5:30, going on a 9-1 spurt over the span with five points from Eric Pollitz and four from Michael Bramos. After the teams traded baskets, the Crusaders put themselves right back in the game with five quick points on a fast-break layup by Urule Igbavboa (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan) and a slam-dunk 3-point play from Cameron Witt (Launceston, Tasmania, Australia/Launceston).
The stretch was indicative of the way the first half would be played, as every time the RedHawks seemed poised to extend their lead, Valpo answered with points of its own. De’Andre Haskins (Long Beach, Calif./La Lumiere [Ind.] School) knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers at one point, while Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) and Benjamin Fumey (Bremen, Germany/Freie Hansestadt) cut the Miami lead to two with consecutive baskets late in the frame. Miami eventually went into the half with a 29-26 lead after Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) found himself loose on the baseline for a layup in the final minute.
Rogers had Valpo’s first four points of the second half, with his second basket of the stanza cutting Miami’s lead to 31-30 with 17:25 to play. It was at that point that both teams started having trouble handling the ball, as over the next three and a half minutes, the sides combined for nine turnovers and zero points. The RedHawks’ Tyler Dierkers finally ended the scoring drought with a jumper to push Miami’s advantage to three with 13:52 remaining.
Miami increased its lead up to nine points at 44-35 at the 10:32 mark thanks to eight quick points from Bramos and a trio of free throws by Dierkers, but the Crusaders did not fold. Jake Diebler (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky) knocked down a jumper in the paint, and after a basket by Pollitz, freed himself for a triple on Valpo’s next possession to make it a six-point game.
Fumey hit a 15-foot jumper the next time down the court to cut the deficit to four points, and after Bramos split a pair from the charity stripe, Igbavboa made a nice move in the paint to bring Valpo back to within 47-44 with 7:49 to play. But again Bramos stepped up for the RedHawks, knocking down a second-chance 3-pointer on their next possession that hit every part of the rim before falling in. Bramos’ triple sparked a 13-3 Miami run over the next four-plus minutes to put the game away.
“I thought that Bramos three really was the turning point,” said Drew. “Up to that point, we were staying within reach, but his three seemed to give Miami momentum. They got a couple of defensive stops after that and converted on the offensive end.”
Diebler and Rogers tied for Crusader team-high scoring honors with ten points apiece. Valpo connected on 51.3% of its field goal attempts (20-of-39), just the second time this season it has been better than 50% from the floor. Igbavboa led Valpo with six rebounds, while Little handed out a team-best four assists.
Bramos connected on 6-of-9 from behind the arc on his way to a game-high 28 points for the RedHawks. Pollitz added 11 points for Miami (6-3), while Dierkers led all players with eight rebounds.
Valparaiso (3-6) returns to the court on Saturday, December 20 at the United Center in Chicago, Ill., hosting the nation’s unanimous top-ranked team in North Carolina in the Windy City Hoops Classic at 1 p.m. This is the fifth consecutive season that Valpo has taken on the nation’s top-ranked team, and the third time in seven years that the Crusaders have hosted a top-ten foe at the United Center.
Tickets are still available for the game by visiting www.ticketmaster.com or by contacting the Valpo ticket office at 219-464-5233. Those unable to make it to the game can watch live on ESPNU or, as always, tune in to 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.