Valparaiso struggled shooting the ball from the floor Thursday night at the Athletics-Recreation Center, eventually falling in Horizon League action to Wright State, 75-71.
The first half saw the Crusaders unable to buy a bucket from anywhere on the court, as they ended the opening 20 minutes hitting just 32% from the floor while missing all nine of their attempts from behind the arc. Meanwhile, the Raiders were on fire from downtown, hitting 7-of-11 (63.6%) from 3-point range in the first half.
Wright State put up a massive 18-2 run over a span of eight minutes in the middle portion of the half to take control. The Raiders’ lead was as many as 15 points in the opening half, but Brandon Wood (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo [Highland C.C./Southern Illinois]) hit a layup, and following a Tommy Kurth (Osceola, Ind./Penn) steal, Cameron Witt (Launceston, Tasmania, Australia/Launceston) hit a shot in the lane at the buzzer to send Valpo into the locker room down just 31-21.
“You have to give credit to Wright State, they are a very well-coached team and are one of the best teams in the league,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “We did not come out aggressively enough in the first half, especially defensively, allowing them to hit seven 3-pointers and get that big lead on us.”
Just as they had done in their previous two games, however, the Crusaders came out of the locker room and quickly erased a sizable halftime deficit. This time, it was a 13-1 run that began with 16:30 to play, as Cory Johnson (Duluth, Minn./Duluth East [Iowa State]) kicked things off with a layup on a feed from Wood. Johnson and Ryan Broekhoff (Frankston, Victoria, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport) each posted four points during the run, and when Brandon McPherson (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) connected on Valpo’s first 3-pointer of the game with 12:30 remaining, the Crusaders had gained a 40-39 advantage.
But Valpo would be unable to hold on, as Wright State claimed back the lead for good just over two minutes later on a 3-pointer by Vaughn Duggins. The Crusaders hung within striking distance for the next five minutes, but a key four-point play by Duggins with 5:20 to play increased the Raider lead to eight points. Wright State pushed the advantage to as many as 11 points with 2:43 remaining before Valpo went on a 14-6 spurt, capped by a long jumper by Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) with 11 seconds to play to move within three points. But Broekhoff was called for a foul on a scramble for the loose ball on the ensuing inbounds, and Todd Brown hit a free throw to put things out of reach.
“I thought Duggins’ four-point play was really a critical moment in the game, giving [Wright State] a little extra cushion,” said Drew. “I was pleased with the way we fought back early in the second half, and then again late, fouling and making shots to get back to within three points.”
Valpo, which entered the game leading the league in 3-point percentage, suffered through one of its worst shooting nights of the season from downtown, hitting just one of its first 14 from deep and ending the game at 4-of-22 (18.2%). Wood led the Crusader effort with 18 points and nine rebounds, while McPherson scored 17 and Johnson 16. Broekhoff set a new career best, leading all players with 13 rebounds.
Wright State (15-8, 8-4 Horizon), which moved into solo second place by virtue of its victory, was led by 18 points from N’Gai Evans. Duggins added 17 points, while Brown scored 12 in the winning effort.
Valparaiso (11-13, 6-6 Horizon) faces another key Horizon League battle on Saturday afternoon as Detroit comes to the ARC for a 1 p.m. tip in the HLN Game of the Week, which can be seen locally on Comcast SportsNet Chicago. As always, the game can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network (WEFM, 95.9 FM, Michigan City; WAKE, 1500 AM, Valparaiso; WLPR, 89.1 FM, Merrillville) 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.