Valparaiso held as much as a seven-point lead in the first half Thursday evening in Chicago, Ill., but UIC put together a 17-0 run in the latter stages of the opening stanza on its way to a 77-52 victory over the Crusaders.
Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) got the Crusaders started early, finding Logan Jones (Madison, Ind./Madison) for a 3-pointer to open the scoring and converting an old-fashioned 3-point play to make it 6-2 Valpo in the early going. Urule Igbavboa (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan) and Cameron Witt (Launceston, Tasmania, Australia/Launceston College) combined for Valpo’s next six points to help the Crusaders maintain a 12-11 lead.
Robo Kreps knocked down a jumper on UIC’s next possession to put the Flames in front, but Little responded, hitting a second-chance basket to give Valpo the lead back and then getting loose for a fast-break layup off a steal by Igbavboa. Two possessions later, Jake Diebler (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky) knocked down a 3-pointer to extend the Valpo advantage to six points, and after another Kreps jumper, Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) connected on a triple of his own to make it 22-15 Valpo with 8:44 remaining in the half.
Rob Eppinger stopped the Valpo spurt with a 3-point play to cut the Crusader lead to four, but Little again answered with a layup off a feed from Jones, pushing the advantage back to 24-18 with 6:34 left in the opening stanza. But that would be the last Valpo field goal for nearly six minutes, as UIC went on its 17-0 run, keyed by eight points from Kreps, to take a 35-24 advantage. On their final first-half possession, the Crusaders broke their scoring drought, as Little found Rogers for a 3-pointer to make it 35-27 at the break.
The Flames’ run would not be slowed by the intermission, as UIC scored 15 of the first 18 points out of the locker room to make it a 32-6 run spanning the halves as they took a 50-30 lead with 13:27 to play. The extended run was broken by a pair of free throws from De’Andre Haskins (Long Beach, Calif./La Lumiere [Ind.] School), and Little followed those up with a pair of freebies of his own. Jones then found Witt on the next possession for an alley-oop dunk to cut the deficit to 50-36 at the 12:02 mark. But that was as close as the Crusaders would get, as UIC scored the next eight points to put the game away.
Little paced the Crusaders, who were playing with just seven scholarship players due to injuries, with 15 points and seven rebounds on the night. Witt, making his first career start, added ten points, as did Rogers. Jones came off the bench to hand out a game-high seven assists.
“I thought Howard gave us really good energy on both ends of the floor and worked extremely hard out there tonight,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “Cameron has really been working hard on his game and it showed tonight; he stepped into the starting spot, hit a couple nice jumpers and gave us a good presence down low.”
Valpo held UIC’s Josh Mayo and Scott VanderMeer, the Flames’ top two scorers entering the game, to just 15 combined points on 5-of-22 shooting, but Kreps picked up the slack for UIC (9-7, 2-4 Horizon), as he connected for a game-high 23 points. Tori Boyd chipped in 14 points, while Eppinger added 13 to go with eight rebounds off the bench.
“Our two keys on the defensive end were Mayo and VanderMeer, and I thought we did a good job limiting both of them tonight,” said Drew. “Kreps did a great job in picking up his play and taking advantage of some open looks and making shots.”Valparaiso (5-13, 2-5 Horizon) continues league play in the Windy City on Saturday, as the Crusaders head to Loyola for a 3 p.m. matinee. As always, 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. Live video and statistics will also be available through the official Crusader website. The game will also be televised live throughout Chicagoland on Lakeshore Public Television and is also accessible on ESPN Full Court.