Valparaiso rallied from a 10-point deficit with nine minutes to play and recovered after a Youngstown State buzzer-beater to end regulation, as the Crusaders eventually earned an 86-78 overtime victory over the Penguins Saturday evening in Youngstown, Ohio. With the win, in which Brandon Wood (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo [Highland C.C./Southern Illinois]) led all players with 31 points, Valpo remains tied in the loss column atop the Horizon League standings.
“I thought we showed our courage and our guts during this game tonight,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “We did not play our best, and Youngstown State really was eager coming in off their win Thursday and played a fast game. We missed some shots and free throws, but our guys kept fighting. I'm proud of them for sticking in there and grinding the game out.”
The Penguins scored on ten straight possessions to take a 63-53 lead with 9:09 to play in the second half, prompting Drew to call a timeout. Out of the stoppage, senior Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) got free inside for a basket and then hit a pair of free throws on Valpo's next trip to move the Crusaders within six points. On the defensive end, Wood then picked up a steal and took it coast-to-coast for a layup to cut the deficit to four.
After Blake Allen hit a deep jumper with 7:07 to play to push the YSU lead back to 65-59, senior Cory Johnson (Duluth, Minn./Duluth East [Iowa State]) found sophomore Ryan Broekhoff (Frankston, Victoria, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport) for a 3-pointer to slice the lead in half. Sophomore Matt Kenney (Mooresville, Ind./Mooresville) split a pair of free throws on Valpo's next trip before Wood came up with another steal and fast-break layup to tie the game at 65-all with 5:48 remaining.
The Penguins got a free throw from DuShawn Brooks to briefly regain the advantage, but Wood quickly tipped the scales in Valpo's favor with a stop-and-pop 3-pointer to give the Crusaders a 68-66 lead. Johnson then came up with a steal on the defensive end, and sophomore Erik Buggs (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell) hit Little on the fast break for a layup to make it a four-point edge with five minutes to play, capping a 17-3 run over a four-minute stretch.
Valpo would not give up a field goal for over seven minutes after the basket at the 7:07 mark, but the Crusader offense went stagnant as well at the end of regulation, as they scored just one point in the final five minutes. Three times, the Penguins split pairs of free throws to move back within 70-69 as the game entered the final minute. YSU held possession with the shot clock off after rebounding a 3-point miss inside the final 30 seconds, but Kendrick Perry stumbled and lost control of the ball. Broekhoff dove to corral it, but was tied up on the ground before being able to call timeout, and the possession arrow was in YSU's favor with 11 seconds to go.
Off the inbounds, Vytas Sulskis had a look from 15 feet on the baseline spin around and out, with Broekhoff there to secure the rebound. The sophomore was fouled, sending him to the charity stripe with six seconds to play, but was only able to hit one of two free throws to give Valpo a 71-69 advantage. Having to go the length of the court, the Penguins got the ball to Perry, who took it to the top of the key and hit a tough pull-up jumper from 18 feet as the buzzer sounded to force overtime.
“We got a big run near the end of regulation to gain the lead and really played some good defense during that stretch,” said Drew. “We got the lead, but you've got to admire [Perry] for stepping up and making a tough shot with a high hand in his face for Youngstown State to tie the game.”
YSU broke the seal on overtime with an Ashen Ward 3-pointer in the opening minute, and still led by three with three minutes to go. Wood and Little both split pairs of free throws over the next minute to move to within 76-75, and then another big shot from Broekhoff followed, as Johnson found the sophomore at the top of the arc for another triple to give Valpo the 78-76 lead with 1:53 to play.
Brooks hit a jumper for YSU on its next trip to knot the game at 78, but Johnson responded with a tough basket underneath which gave the Crusaders the lead for good with 1:07 remaining. After the squads traded fruitless possessions, Wood came up with the defensive play of the game, stepping in front of a pass for the steal and, while following out of bounds, lobbing the ball over a defender to Buggs on the fast break, who took the ball to the basket for a layup to push the lead to four points with 35 seconds left. Wood then iced the game at the charity stripe, knocking down all four of his free throw attempts in the final 20 seconds to secure the win.
It was a slow start Saturday for the Crusaders, who trailed 16-4 just 6:30 into the ballgame. Valpo got to within four nearing the end of the first half after a Wood 3-pointer, and eventually went into the break down 38-33 thanks to a basket by Kenney in the paint. Wood scored eight early second-half points as Valpo took its first lead of the game almost five minutes into the second stanza, but it was at that point that YSU started its scoring streak to push its lead back to 10 points and setting up the endgame.
Valpo was led by Wood's 31 points, as the junior hit 11-of-21 from the floor, including a trio of 3-pointers. Wood also grabbed five rebounds and tallied team highs with four assists and four steals. Broekhoff picked up his second straight double-double, scoring 11 points and leading all players with a career-best 14 rebounds. Little added 11 points as well, while Kenney chipped in 10 off the bench. Valpo shot 47.7% (31-of-65) from the floor and totaled 45 rebounds to YSU's 32. The Crusaders also held significant edges in points in the paint (46-20) and second-chance points (20-2) to offset a 19-of-40 performance at the free throw line.
“I thought Brandon had an All-League performance for us tonight,” said Drew. “Not only in his scoring, but he had the two biggest defensive plays of the game with steals late in regulation and overtime. He rebounded well tonight and also had four assists and four steals for us. Ryan really played a good game as well, doing a great job in rebounding to pick up another double-double, and I thought Howard really played great defense tonight.”
Youngstown State (8-15, 2-11 Horizon) got 17 points from Sulskis to lead the way, while Perry and Brooks added 15 apiece and Ashen Ward contributed 11. Sulskis also ended the night with a double-double, pulling down 10 rebounds of his own to pace the Penguins.
Valparaiso (17-7, 9-3 Horizon) now finds itself tied in the loss column with Cleveland State entering next week's action, which sees the Crusaders return home to the ARC. First up for the Crusaders at home is Detroit on Thursday evening, and as always, all the action can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network and online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have links for live video through the HLN and live stats.