Valparaiso led from start to finish for the second straight game and got a season-high 21 points from junior Brandon Wood (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo [Highland C.C./Southern Illinois]) as the Crusaders defeated Eastern Michigan Monday afternoon at the O'rena in Rochester, Mich. With the win, Valpo advances to the championship game of the Lou Henson Award Tournament Tuesday evening against host Oakland.
Wood had his second straight stellar shooting night from the floor, connecting on 7-of-11 from the field. The junior also converted 6-of-8 from the free throw line for his season-best point total. Wood also contributed elsewhere on the stat sheet, pulling down four rebounds and tying for game-high honors with five assists and three steals.
Wood was far from the only Crusader starter to chip in on the scoreboard, as four Valpo starters in all ended the night in double figures. Senior Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) hit 5-of-7 from the floor for 13 points, while sophomore Ryan Broekhoff (Frankston, Victoria, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport) also scored 13 points, his coming on 4-of-5 field goals and a perfect 4-of-4 effort from the foul line. Fifth-year senior Cory Johnson (Duluth, Minn./Duluth East [Iowa State]) added 12 points as well.
For the second consecutive contest, Valpo got out to an extremely good start to the game. Sophomore Erik Buggs (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell) found Little for a layup on the Crusaders' first trip, and then Broekhoff connected on a 3-pointer and drove for a layup on back-to-back possessions for a quick seven points. The Crusaders eventually scored the first eight of the ballgame and led at double digits just 4:38 into the game at 12-2.
“We really jumped on them early tonight with that 12-2 run,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “The best part of that quick start was the fact we had four assists on five baskets. We got some good backdoor layups and moved the ball well on offense, and especially got some great penetrating and passing from Erik.”
Eastern Michigan (1-9) would respond with a 10-2 run of its own to slice the Crusader edge down to two points with 10:43 remaining in the opening stanza, but Valpo scored the next five to again gain some breathing room. Sophomore Matt Kenney (Mooresville, Ind./Mooresville) went to the basket for a layup and then Little hit a free throw and then a layup off a feed by Johnson.
The lead would hover around two or three possessions for most of the remainder of the half until layins on two straight trips by senior Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) gave Valpo a 29-17 lead with 1:29 left in the half. But EMU got a 3-pointer from Brandon Bowdry to close the first-half scoring as the Crusaders went into the locker room ahead by nine points.
“Our defense was really strong for us in the first half,” said Drew. “We held Eastern Michigan to 28% shooting and did a good job limiting them to just one shot.”
Valpo's lead remained around the ten-point mark for the first five minutes of the second half and the Crusaders led just 38-30 with 15:18 to play after a putback by the Eagles' J.R. Sims. But an 11-2 run pushed the lead out into almost insurmountable territory. Wood started the spurt with a 3-pointer and then took the ball to the basket on the fast break for five quick points.
Two possessions later, Wood came up with a steal and then hit both free throws after being fouled to push the lead to 15 points. After a pair of EMU free throws stemmed the Crusaders' tide, sophomore Kevin Van Wijk (Hoofdoorp, Netherlands/Katholieke Scholengemeenschap Hoofddorp) accounted for all four points on a Valpo possession thanks to an intentional foul to give the Crusaders a 49-32 edge with 12:03 remaining.
While Eastern Michigan would make a number of runs at the Crusaders over the remainder of the game, Valpo never allowed the Eagles to close to closer than six points. Seven straight points by Johnson around the under-eight media timeout helped offset Eastern Michigan scoring on four straight trips, as well as a layup by Broekhoff. EMU cut the Valpo edge to 61-55 with 5:27 remaining, but out of a timeout, Broekhoff broke the full-court press with a deep pass over the top to Wood for an uncontested dunk.
The Eagles again threatened after five straight points made the lead just 67-60 with 1:55 to play, but after the Crusaders ran most of the shot clock on the ensuing possession, Wood pulled up for an 18-foot jumper to push the lead back to nine points. The Eagles would get no closer than the final margin the rest of the way.
“We knew we would have to extend the lead after halftime to be in a position to still be able to keep a three-possession lead even if they went on a run and hit some threes,” said Drew. “We were able to keep that three-possession lead and make them foul us at the end. I was really pleased with our guys; Brandon really hit some key shots in the second half to keep that lead. Then him and Ryan really sealed the game by making free throws down the stretch.”
Valparaiso shot 51% from the floor for the game, including a 23-of-38 effort from inside the arc as 14 of the first 15 Crusader baskets were layups. The Crusaders also were solid from the free throw line, hitting 22-of-30 (73.3%) from the stripe. Little led the Valpo effort on the boards with eight rebounds, while Buggs joined Wood with five assists. The Valpo defense forced 21 Eastern Michigan turnovers, 12 of which were Crusader steals.
Eastern Michigan was led by 24 points and 10 rebounds by Bowdry, while Darrell Lampley joined him in double figures with 10 points. The Eagles hit 10 3-pointers on 27 attempts, but were dominated by the Crusaders in points in the paint (44-16) and points off turnovers (26-10).
Valparaiso (8-4) takes on its former Mid-Con rival in Oakland Tuesday evening in the championship game of the tournament at 6:30 p.m. CST. The game can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network and online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have a link for live stats.