Valparaiso shot just 35.2% from the floor and hit just two 3-pointers in a 68-48 loss to Loyola Thursday evening at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
“We didn’t have any gas in our tank tonight,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “We couldn’t get up and down the floor as much as we like to. Over the course of this year, our defense has been able to pick us up, but we were just a step or two slow on the defensive end tonight. Offensively, we had layups, dunks and wide-open shots we just weren’t able to convert. This has been a tough stretch of games, and we just need to keep fighting.”
Senior Cory Johnson (Duluth, Minn./Duluth East [Iowa State]) opened the scoring just 17 seconds into the game, but that would be Valpo’s only lead, as Loyola scored the next ten points to take control. Five straight points nearing the midway point of the first half, on a 3-point play by sophomore Kevin Van Wijk (Hoofddorp, Netherlands/Katholieke Scholengemeenschap Hoofddorp) and a layup by sophomore Erik Buggs (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell), cut into the Rambler advantage and brought Valpo within 15-11 with 11:16 to go in the period.
But Loyola punched right back with a run of its own, going on a 11-2 spurt over the next six minutes to push the lead back into double figures. The Crusaders surged in a stretch of just over 90 seconds in the final four minutes of the half, getting a 3-point play from senior Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) and inside baskets by Johnson and sophomore Ryan Broekhoff (Frankston, Victoria, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport) to cut a 14-point deficit to seven. But that was as close as the Crusaders would get in the first half, as Loyola went into the break ahead 34-26.
Both squads started the second half slowly, scoring just eight points apiece in the first 8:30 of the half. A pair of free throws by Van Wijk and a 3-pointer by freshman Jay Harris (Aurora, Ill./Oswego East), the Crusaders’ first triple of the game, cut the lead to 40-37 with 10:48 to play and forced a Loyola timeout. But out of the stoppage, the Ramblers scored the next nine points to take control for good. Valpo cut the lead down to eight points on a pair of occasions, the latest coming on a Johnson 3-pointer with 5:24 to go, but could get no closer.
Johnson was the only Crusader to finish in double figures, scoring 15 points Thursday. Broekhoff led the Crusaders with six rebounds, while sophomore Matt Kenney (Mooresville, Ind./Mooresville) grabbed five boards and handed out three assists off the bench. Four Loyola (16-13, 7-10 Horizon) players scored in double digits, led by 20 points from Terrance Hill, as the Rambler starting five accounted for all 68 of their points. Andy Polka pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds.
“There’s still a lot of games left in the season,” said Drew. “We need to regroup and get our legs back under us. This year’s tournament is going to be wide-open.”
Valparaiso (20-10, 11-6 Horizon) closes out the regular season at the ARC Saturday against UIC at 7:05 p.m. It will be Senior Night, honoring Johnson, Little and Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) for their contributions to the Crusader program. The game can be seen live on Comcast SportsNet Chicago, or heard as always on the Valpo Sports Radio Network. Links for live audio, live video through the Horizon League Network and live stats can be found at www.valpoathletics.com.