Valparaiso exemplified the giving spirit of the holiday season on Saturday evening as the Crusaders handed out 27 assists on 33 baskets in an 83-57 victory over Concordia (Wis.) at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
“It’s always a little bit scary as a coach coming off of finals week because it throws players out of their routine,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “You don’t know what kind of mental and physical energy level you’re going to get from the players, but I was proud of the way we came out and played tonight. I was especially proud of the way we shared the ball to get 27 assists. We were finding open players and then guys were hitting their open shots.”
Valpo jumped out to a quick lead Saturday evening, going ahead 11-3 just over three and a half minutes in. Concordia stuck around, however, and was down just 17-11 with 11 minutes to play in the opening half, but that was when the Crusaders put together a massive run to take control.
Cory Johnson (Duluth, Minn./Duluth East [Iowa State]) started the run with a layup off a feed from Matt Kenney (Mooresville, Ind./Mooresville), followed by a Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) steal and dish ahead for a fast-break layup to Brandon McPherson (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North). The next Crusader possession brought a second-chance layup for Johnson on a pass by Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School).
Following a Falcon turnover, Johnson got loose for another layup on a pass from Kenney to cap a quick 8-0 spurt to push the lead to 25-11. Concordia got a 3-pointer from Nick Doedens to briefly slow the Crusader momentum, but the next four minutes saw Valpo rattle off another 19-2 spurt to cap the overall run at 27-5 to put the Crusaders ahead comfortably at 44-16 with 3:54 remaining in the half. Ryan Broekhoff (Frankston, Victoria, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport) knocked home a trio of 3-pointers during the 19-2 spurt, while Brandon Wood (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo [Highland C.C./Southern Illinois]) handed out three assists.
Valpo would eventually go into the locker room with a 51-22 halftime advantage after shooting 60% (21-of-35) from the floor in the first half. The Falcons ended up outscoring Valpo in the second half, 35-32, but the Crusaders never were threatened, with the lead never falling below 22 points as they cruised to victory.
“I was pleased with our really, really good start in the first half, especially on the defensive end,” said Drew. “Giving up 35 points in the second half was too many, though, and we’re going to have to be better on defense to win our upcoming games.”
Wood paced Valpo with 21 points while also tallying six rebounds and a game-high six assists. Johnson scored 20 on 9-of-13 shooting from the floor, while Broekhoff set a new career high with 17 points and a game-high eight rebounds in just 17 minutes of the action. Rogers chipped in 11 points off the bench to round out four Crusaders in double figures in the scoring column.
Wood had plenty of help in distributing the basketball, as four different Valpo players finished with at least four assists. Little dished out five helpers to go along with six rebounds, including four on the offensive end, while freshman guards Kenney and Tommy Kurth (Osceola, Ind./Penn) each registered four assists against just one turnover, while the latter also picked up four steals.
Concordia (5-6) was led by 17 points, including five triples, from Mitchell Schneider. Kyle Barth pulled down a team-high six rebounds, while Edward Newton-Kemp tallied four assists.
Valparaiso (5-6) hits the road for a pair of non-league games sandwiching Christmas, starting with a trip to Fort Wayne on the 22nd to face IPFW. As always, the game can be heard on the Valpo Sports Radio Network (WEFM, 95.9 FM, Michigan City; WAKE, 1500 AM, Valparaiso) and online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have a link for live statistics.