Valparaiso trailed by just nine with the ball in the early
stages of the second half Sunday afternoon at Akron, but the Zips scored the next 14 points
to take control as the Crusaders fell by a 77-57 count.
Akron threatened to take a large lead early, running
out to an 11-3 advantage just 4:30 into the ballgame, but the Crusaders replied
right back. A quick 6-0 spurt was
started by a layup from Howard Little (Chicago,
Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) and Brandon
Wood (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo [Highland C.C./Southern Illinois]) followed with
a free throw and 3-pointer over the next two minutes to cut the lead back down
to two points. The lead remained in the
single digits for most of the first half and the Crusaders trailed by just six
at 29-23 with 3:08 to play in the stanza thanks in large part to nine points by
Wood and five points from Ryan Broekhoff
(Frankston, Victoria, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport).
“Akron is a very experienced team that went to
the NCAA Tournament last year and is picked to win their division of the MAC
this year,” said Crusader head coach Homer
Drew. “They also have gotten the
chance to play a number of home games already, and I think that all showed
early as they jumped out to the lead on us.
I was really proud of the way we came back to make it a close game late
in the first half.”
But over the last three
minutes of the half, Valpo went just 0-for-1 with three turnovers on the
offensive end while Akron connected on three shots in a 7-0 run, including a
Brett McKnight layup in the waning seconds, to end the opening 20 minutes with
the score 36-23.
“That run was really the
key point in the game,” said Drew. “We
gave up a couple offensive rebounds during that stretch that Akron converted on, and instead of going into
the half within six points, we’re down 13.”
The second half got off
to a good start for Valpo, as Cory
Johnson (Duluth, Minn./Duluth East [Iowa State]) got loose for a layup on
the opening possession and Wood followed with a steal and fast-break dunk to
bring the deficit back down to nine points.
Tommy Kurth (Osceola,
Ind./Penn) registered a steal on the next
defensive trip to give the Crusaders a chance to cut the margin down to seven
or six points, but a turnover ended that opportunity and started Akron’s big run.
Over the next three
minutes, the Crusaders committed three turnovers while also missing three
shots, while the Zips took full advantage, scoring on six of their eight
possessions in the same span. Chris
McKnight connected on Akron’s
final two baskets of the run, giving the Zips a 50-27 lead with 15:19 to
play. Valpo continued to fight and got
the deficit back down to 16 points late in the second half, but could get no
“We really came out well
in the second half, putting together good offensive and defensive possessions
to get back within nine,” said Drew.
started to go inside to their strength again to pull away.”
Wood led the Crusaders
with 18 points, while Johnson added 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting. Wood also paced Valpo in the rebounding
department with five boards, as the Crusaders got outrebounded by a 33-22 clip. As a team, Valpo shot 45% from the floor, but
committed 18 turnovers leading to 27 Akron
Jimmy Conyers led all
players with 22 points on 10-of-13 shooting for the Zips, while Brett McKnight
seconded Conyers with 18 points for Akron
(9-3). Akron connected on 55.4% of its shot attempts
and enjoyed significant advantages over the Crusaders in both points in the
paint (38-22) and second-chance points (16-2).
“Akron had taller, stronger players up front,
but we’ve got to find a way to rebound the basketball better,” said Drew. “Giving up 13 offensive rebounds is just too
many, especially when you consider they ended up with 16 second-chance
points. The good news is that we get to
come home now for a party at the ARC on New Year’s Eve.”
Valparaiso (5-8) returns to the court on New Year’s Eve as
the Crusaders open the heart of the Horizon League schedule with a 7:05 p.m.
matchup against Milwaukee. As always, the game can be heard live on the
Valpo Sports Radio Network (WEFM, 95.9 FM, Michigan City;
WAKE, 1500 AM, Valparaiso)
and can be seen on the Horizon League Network,
Valpo’s athletic website, www.valpoathletics.com,
will have links for live audio, video and statistics.