Valparaiso hit 11 of its first 12 shots from the field and never looked back, defeating Detroit Sunday afternoon 78-68 in Detroit, Mich. With the win, their second in 42 hours, the Crusaders have won four straight and sit alone atop the Horizon League standings at 6-1.
Valpo completed a sweep of the Wright State-Detroit road trip for the second time in its four years in the Horizon League with Sunday's victory. The win also moves the Crusaders to 14-5 overall, matching their best start since the 1996-1997 campaign. In addition, Valpo's 6-1 mark in league play, the Crusaders' best start to Horizon League action, has come despite playing five of its first seven league games on the road.
“I'm just really proud of our basketball team today,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “This is a tough road trip in the league, having to play against two quality teams, and I'm proud of how our guys played. We got a good lead, and in the last few minutes, made enough free throws to keep the lead. Also, other than a couple miscues, we handled the ball very well against Detroit's quickness and pressure.”
Valparaiso turned the ball over on its first three possessions Sunday, allowing Detroit to jump out to a quick 5-0 advantage. But once the Crusaders started getting shots into the air, their side of the scoreboard started growing by leaps and bounds. Sophomore Ryan Broekhoff (Frankston, Victoria, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport) connected on a pair of early 3-pointers, the second of which brought Valpo back within 9-8 and started a massive 22-4 run.
The Crusaders actually scored on 11 straight possessions starting with the pair of Broekhoff 3-pointers and a layup by Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School). Following Broekhoff's second triple, sophomore Matt Kenney (Mooresville, Ind./Mooresville) got up to tip in a Crusader miss and then redshirt junior Brandon Wood (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo [Highland C.C./Southern Illinois]) hit a long jumper to give the Crusaders a 12-9 lead.
The offensive hot streak would continue on a layup by Kenney and a 3-pointer by freshman Jay Harris (Aurora, Ill./Oswego East), pushing the lead to seven points. Wood then hit back-to-back layups, followed by a deep baseline jumper to make it a double-digit advantage. Yet another fast-break layup by the junior after a steal by Little closed the stretch of 11 straight trips with a score, and two minutes later senior Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) hit a layup to give Valpo a 27-13 lead with 9:21 to play in the half.
Two more triples by Harris back-to-back helped push the Valpo edge even higher, and a pass from Wood ahead to fifth-year senior Cory Johnson (Duluth, Minn./Duluth East [Iowa State]) gave the Crusaders their biggest lead at 37-19 with 5:46 to play in the first half. Detroit put together a 9-0 run to move back within single digits as the first 20 minutes were winding down, but Little hit sophomore Kevin Van Wijk (Hoofddorp, Netherlands/Katholieke Scholengemeenschap Hoofddorp) for a layup with 56 seconds to go in the stanza to make it a 39-28 Valpo edge at the halftime break.
The lead would stay right around the 10-point mark, give or take a couple points, for most of the second half as well in the Crusaders' favor. Whenever Detroit closed to within seven points, Valpo immediately had an answer. Nick Minnerath brought the Titans within 50-43 with 12:37 to play, but Van Wijk found Little for a layup on the Crusaders' next trip. Eli Holman then hit a pair of free throws for Detroit to again make it a seven-point game, but two possessions later Rogers came up with a steal and fast-break basket to push the lead back to nine points.
Rogers got a tip-in basket at the 9:20 mark to answer a Minnerath layup which had again cut the Crusader edge to seven points, but 1:20 later, Minnerath went up for a tip dunk to bring Detroit as close as they had been in the second half, within 60-54. But it was then that the Valpo defense stepped up again, surrendering just two field goals to the Titans over the next seven minutes as the Crusaders put the game away.
“I thought the composure of our team was great when Detroit had the momentum and cut the lead to six points,” said Drew. “We made a couple very good plays, shared the ball well and got the ball moving towards the basket to keep our lead.”
Wood started the run with a fast-break layup while being fouled following a steal, and then Kenney stepped up and hit two free throws following a steal to push the lead back into double digits. Kenney then knocked down a jumper to make it 66-54, and following a dunk by Holman, connected on two more freebies as he scored 10 points in a 14-point stretch for the Crusaders. Sophomore Erik Buggs (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell) followed with two free throws of his own to make it a 70-56 game with 4:31 remaining.
Detroit would score six straight points late, the last four coming on back-to-back steals and fast-break dunks by Ray McCallum, to close within 73-66 with 50 seconds remaining. But the Crusaders moved the ball well against the Titan pressure after the last basket, breaking the press and eventually getting a layup from Johnson to cement the game.
Valpo again shot better than 50% from the floor for the game, connecting on 29-of-56 (51.8%) from the field. Wood led the way with 17 points Sunday and also tallied a game-high four steals, while Kenney had perhaps his best game of the season, going 5-of-7 from the field for 16 points in just 21 minutes of action. Kenney also led Valpo on the boards, matching his career best with eight rebounds. Broekhoff also finished in double figures with 10 points in the winning effort.
“Matt was so good for us off the bench today,” said Drew. “He gave us great life, not only with his scoring but also with his effort on the defensive end. Then of course, he gave us a big lift with rebounding, because we knew how tough it would be to grab defensive rebounds against Detroit's front line, and Matt got inside fighting for the boards and came up with eight rebounds.”
Detroit (10-9, 4-3 Horizon) got a game-high 23 points from Minnerath, who also picked up his first career double-double with 12 rebounds, eight of which came on the offensive end. McCallum added 16 points and Jason Calliste 10, but the Titans hit just 38.0% (19-of-50) from the floor, staying in the game with a 29-of-35 (82.9%) effort from the foul line.
Valparaiso (14-5, 6-1 Horizon) returns home to start a three-game homestand this Friday, Jan. 21 as the Crusaders host Milwaukee at 6 p.m. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN3.com, and can also be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network and online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have a link for live stats.