Valparaiso overcame a nine-point first half deficit to take the halftime lead and then never trailed in the second half in an 82-74 victory over Detroit at the Athletics-Recreation Center Thursday night. With the win, the Crusaders remain atop the Horizon League standings at 10-3 with five games remaining.
“I thought that in the first half tonight, Detroit’s transition hurt us a bit,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “They were running and got down the floor and beat us a few times, which helped them get their lead. I thought that our guys in the second half made some good adjustments to get back defensively and make it 5-on-5.”
A balanced offensive effort got the job done for the Crusaders on Thursday, led by fifth-year senior Cory Johnson (Duluth, Minn./Duluth East [Iowa State]). Johnson scored 19 points, going 8-of-11 from inside the arc, and also tied for team-high honors on the glass with five rebounds. Redshirt junior Brandon Wood (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo [Highland C.C./Southern Illinois]) poured in 17 points, 12 of which came in the second half, while also grabbing five rebounds and handing out three assists without a turnover.
Meanwhile, sophomore Ryan Broekhoff (Frankston, Victoria, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport) stuffed the entire stat sheet Thursday night. Broekhoff connected on 3-of-5 from beyond the arc en route to 17 points and also was one of four Crusaders with five rebounds. The sophomore matched his career high with five assists and set a new standard with five steals while also blocking three shots.
The Crusaders and Titans were tied at 14 apiece just over seven minutes into the game before a 9-0 Detroit spurt, including back-to-back 3-pointers on the fast break by Chase Simon, gave the visitors a 23-14 edge with 10:17 remaining in the first half. Valpo immediately responded, scoring on three of its next four possessions, including back-to-back layups by Johnson, to cut the lead back down to three points at the 8:24 mark.
Detroit’s edge was still six points at 28-22 with 5:30 to go in the first half before another Crusader spurt put them in front for good. Broekhoff sparked the run with a steal and feed to Johnson for a fast-break dunk, and on the next trip, Wood found senior Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) inside for a layup to cut the lead to two.
After a Detroit miss, sophomore Erik Buggs (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell) hit Wood on the fast break for a trifecta that put Valpo ahead, and then senior Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) came up with a loose ball after a blocked shot the next time down the floor and laid it in to cap a 9-0 spurt that put Valpo ahead 31-28 with 3:01 to go in the half. The Crusaders eventually would carry a 34-32 advantage into the locker room.
Wood started the scoring in the second half with a 3-pointer just over a minute into the stanza, but consecutive baskets by the Titans brought them within one point at 37-36 with 17:06 remaining. Sophomore Matt Kenney (Mooresville, Ind./Mooresville) found Johnson ahead of the pack off the latter basket, however, and the fast-break layin pushed the lead back to three. Wood then knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to give Valpo a nine-point advantage with 16:12 to play.
The Crusaders wouldn’t score for nearly four minutes after the last Wood triple, allowing the Titans to piece together a 9-0 run to tie the game at 45-all. But freshman Jay Harris (Aurora, Ill./Oswego East) stepped up with a 3-pointer from the corner at the 12:19 mark to get Valpo going, and then fed sophomore Kevin Van Wijk (Hoofddorp, Netherlands/Katholieke Scholengemeenschap Hoofddorp) on the next trip for a layup inside. Broekhoff came up with one of his five picks on the defensive end and found Little for a layup on the breakout to cap a 7-0 spurt in a 1:03 span.
Detroit kept fighting, cutting its deficit to two points at 52-50 with 9:25 to go, but Valpo responded with back-to-back buckets from Johnson and Wood to make it a six-point game. A pair of free throws from the Titans’ Chase Simon were answered immediately by a layup from Kenney, and the lead would fluctuate between five and nine points for the next five-plus minutes.
Two freebies by Van Wijk put Valpo ahead 73-64 with 3:17 to go, but Ray McCallum canned a 3-pointer and then Eli Holman converted two free throws to bring the Titans within four points just 40 seconds later. But on the next offensive trip, Broekhoff found Johnson inside for a layup to make it a six-point game again, and then the sophomore came up with a big blocked shot on the defensive end. Detroit got no closer than six the rest of the way, as the Crusaders went 6-of-8 from the foul line in the final 90 seconds to secure the win.
“It was great to see us hit free throws late when it got under three minutes to keep the lead,” said Drew. “Ryan made a great pass at a key moment for a layup and then blocked the shot on the other end. Then the free throws helped us build our lead and make it a two and three possession game.”
Little chipped in nine points and five rebounds in the winning effort, while Kenney added eight points and four rebounds off the bench and Buggs dished out five assists while committing just one turnover. Valpo shot 50.8% (31-of-61) for the game and assisted on 21 of its 31 baskets. The Crusaders also out-rebounded the Titans, 35-32, despite having no single player with more than five boards.
“It was wonderful to have nine guys tonight, because Matt hadn’t practiced this week,” said Drew. “We were waiting until game time to see if he would be effective tonight, and he got in there and played 24 minutes. I loved his tenacity on the boards and his defensive effort tonight. I was happy to see all nine guys played, all nine scored and got a rebound and all gave us at least 10 minutes.”
Simon paced Detroit (14-13, 8-7 Horizon) with 22 points, while McCallum added 15 points and game highs of nine rebounds and six assists. Holman scored 14 points as well off the bench for the Titans.
Valparaiso (18-7, 10-3 Horizon) looks to stay atop the league standings on Saturday when the Crusaders host Wright State. Tipoff is set for 7:05 p.m., and 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 Horizon League Network and live stats.