Valparaiso continued its preseason foreign tour in Cancun, Mexico Tuesday evening with another decisive victory, downing Pioneros de Cancun by a 118-59 count. Brandon Wood (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo [Highland C.C./Southern Illinois]) paced the Crusaders Tuesday with 26 points.
“I was really pleased with our effort tonight, especially playing in back-to-back games,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “We let Bryce serve as the head coach tonight, assisted by Luke, Chris and Jake, while I went up to the top of the arena and just watched, trying to get a big picture of our spacing on offense and our rotation on defense. Those were two areas we wanted to improve in, and it let me get the bigger picture of how we were doing in those areas while giving the younger coaches the chance to coach.”
The Crusaders got off to a quick start against Pioneros de Cancun, the junior club of professional side Pioneros de Quintana Roo, who Valpo will face on Thursday. Right off the opening tip, Kevin Van Wijk (Hoofddorp, Netherlands/Katholeike Scholengemeenschap Hoofddorp) got the ball to Matt Kenney (Mooresville, Ind./Mooresville) for a game-opening dunk. Kenney then followed up with a tip-in on the offensive end for a quick 4-0 start.
A runner by Jay Harris (Aurora, Ill./Oswego East) and a 3-pointer from Wood pushed the lead to 9-3 before Valpo went on a 21-10 spurt, keyed by steals from Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) and Erik Buggs (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell) and a drive off a block by Cameron Witt (Launceston, Tasmania, Australia/Launceston), to end the first quarter with a 30-13 edge.
Pioneros de Cancun remained within striking distance for much of the second quarter before another mini-spurt, this time of the 17-10 variety, pushed the Crusaders to a 59-33 halftime edge. Little led the run with three assists, while Cory Johnson (Duluth, Minn./Duluth East [Iowa State]) and Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) both came up with key rebounds during the stretch.
Valpo held Pioneros without a field goal over the final 2:02 of the second quarter, and an alley-oop from Harris to Kenney capped the Crusaders' dominant first-half performance. Valparaiso cruised from there, ending the game with the 59-point advantage.
Five players scored in double figures for the Crusaders, paced by Wood's 26 points. Johnson added 20 points, while Kenney went for 17 points. Rogers finished in double digits for the second straight game with 11 points, while Witt rounded out the quintet of double-figure performers with 10 points.
“Our defense was really key for us tonight, coming up with a number of turnovers,” said Drew. “The effort was really led by pressure up top from Erik, Howard, Matt, Jay and Brandon and it helped us convert turnovers into offensive chances. Our biggest thing so far is that we haven't been challenged yet by size, and that's what we're expecting to change over the next two days. We're really looking forward to seeing over the next two games how we handle players bigger than we are."
For the second straight night, Valpo shared the ball well as a team, ending up with 23 assists as a squad on Tuesday. Little led the way with seven helpers, while Harris added five assists and Tommy Kurth (Osceola, Ind./Penn) four assists. All 13 players played for the Crusaders Tuesday, including Van Wijk, who started, and Witt, both of whom sat out Monday to rest nagging injuries.
“We're very pleased with Kevin in our lineup, he gives us a great amount of energy in the post,” said Drew. “We're still trying to get him back to where he can play without discomfort, and we're actually rehabbing both him and Cameron tonight. Cam really shot the ball well tonight and was a big presence on defense with three blocks, while Kevin was very aggressive, went to the boards hard and ignited our fast break with a number of good outlet passes.”
Valparaiso continues its four-game preseason foreign tour with a rematch Wednesday night against Rebotera de Cancun, which the Crusaders beat by a healthy 119-54 margin on Monday. It is expected to be a different Rebotera squad on the court Wednesday, however, as a number of additional players have arrived in preparation for the upcoming Mexican season. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m.