Playing its fourth game in four days and trailing by 17 points in the first quarter against one of Mexico's top professional teams, Valparaiso could have easily given in to the opposition's home-court advantage. But the Crusaders dug deep and rallied, taking a halftime lead before eventually defeating Pioneros de Quintana Roo, 102-84, Wednesday evening in Cancun, Mexico to conclude their preseason foreign tour with a perfect 4-0 record.
“I was really pleased with our determination and poise when we were trailing in the first quarter tonight,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “We maintained our poise and let our defense lead us the rest of the game. Offensively, we shared the ball very well, ending up with 25 assists, and beat a good professional team tonight.”
Pioneros de Quintana Roo, which finished in third place in the 20-team LNBP last season and recently reported for the start of training camp prior to the 2010-2011 campaign, took advantage of the Crusaders early on, jumping to a maximum advantage of 29-12 before closing the first of four 10-minute quarters with a lead of 31-17. The game, as were the three prior games in the trip, was contested under international rules, with four quarters, a 24-second shot clock and the international 3-point line.
The second quarter was nearly the exact opposite of the first, however, as the Crusader defense stepped up, at one point holding Pioneros to just one basket in eight offensive trips. During that stretch, Brandon Wood (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo [Highland C.C./Southern Illinois]) scored five points and grabbed three rebounds, while Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) grabbed four boards as well.
With the rally started, Ryan Broekhoff (Frankston, Victoria, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport) came up with a big steal and layup, and Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) picked up a pair of tip-ins on the offensive end. When the dust settled, Valpo had outscored Pioneros 32-15 in the second quarter and went into the halftime break with a 49-46 edge.
But with the lead only three heading into the third quarter, the Crusaders still had work to do. But Broekhoff stepped up big-time, knocking down a trio of triples early in the third stanza to help Valpo extend its lead. Erik Buggs (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell) would record a pair of steals and score five points in the quarter, while Little also had two thefts in the ten-minute span as well as the Crusaders led 76-61 entering the final frame.
Pioneros would not go down without a fight, staying within striking distance as it trailed by just eight with 5:23 to go in the ballgame. But that was when the youngest member of the Crusader squad, freshman Jay Harris (Aurora, Ill./Oswego East), made the biggest play of the game, converting a four-point play to keep the Valpo lead at a comfortable margin. Harris also added a pair of assists down the stretch as the Crusaders closed out the 18-point win.
Four Crusaders finished in double figures in the scoring column, led by 17 points from Little, who also picked up four steals. Broekhoff went for 16 points, while Harris added 13 points and four assists. Wood scored 12 points and handed out a team-best six assists despite playing under the weather.
The rest of the Valpo perimeter contingent all had contributions to the victory as well. Matt Kenney (Mooresville, Ind./Mooresville) posted nine points and three steals, while Rogers added eight points and six rebounds. Buggs finished with seven points and four steals, Nick Shelton (Frankenmuth, Mich./Frankenmuth) scored three points and Tommy Kurth (Osceola, Ind./Penn) handed out an assist.
The post players really stepped up as well, as Cory Johnson (Duluth, Minn./Duluth East [Iowa State]) posted nine points. Cameron Witt (Launceston, Tasmania, Australia/Launceston) finished with five points and three rebounds and Hrvoje Vucic (Glavice, Croatia/Faust Vrancic) chipped in three points and three rebounds while battling a front line that included former NBA center Horacio Llamas (nine points) and Missouri product Kevin Young (12 points).
“We were very pleased with both Cam and Vuc tonight,” said assistant coach Luke Gore. “They played with a lot of energy and showed great poise in battling two guys who weighed over 300 pounds, as well as four others 6'7” or bigger.”
“Tonight was yet another great experience for our players,” said Drew. “The fans here were cheering even for our guys in the middle of our runs, and then after the game, we couldn't get out of the gym for a while because so many fans stuck around to take pictures with our players. It was just such a great trip, wonderful not only because we won all four games, but because we also really grew together as a team during our time down here.”