Valpo scored on six out of seven possessions in a key stretch just past the midway point of the second half, turning a one-point deficit into a 10-point lead en route to a 59-48 victory over Northern Illinois Tuesday evening in DeKalb, Ill.
“We were shorthanded tonight, without having Jay [Harris] available and Tommy [Kurth] being under the weather,” said Crusader head coach Bryce Drew. “So we basically went at it with an eight-man rotation, and the guys did a marvelous job of playing a lot of minutes. I told the team I was proud of their ability to come up with big plays late, and they were great breaking through the wall of fatigue and saving their best for the last few minutes.”
The Crusaders had actually briefly regained the lead, their first since the midway point of the first half, as they held Northern Illinois scoreless over a four-and-a-half minute stretch, during which they went on a 7-0 spurt. Trailing 37-31 with under 13 minutes to play, junior Ben Boggs (Roanoke, Va./Hidden Valley [Virginia Tech]) knocked down a triple to start the brief run. Juniors Ryan Broekhoff (Frankston, Victoria, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport) and Kevin Van Wijk (Hoofddorp, Netherlands/Katholieke Scholengemeenschap Hoofddorp) then had putback buckets on back-to-back trips to give Valpo a 38-37 lead with 10:41 to play.
A little less than two minutes later, NIU’s Tim Toler hit a jumper from the top of the lane to regain the lead for the Huskies, but that was when the Crusaders started their offensive onslaught. Broekhoff started the run with a 3-pointer from the top of the key off a feed from redshirt junior Erik Buggs (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell) with 8:33 to play to take the lead back, and then two trips later, redshirt sophomore Hrvoje Vucic (Split, Croatia/Faust Vrancic) drained a pair of free throws to put Valpo up 43-39.
After an NIU miss on its next offensive trip, Buggs grabbed the rebound and pushed into an odd-man break, finishing with a bounce pass to junior Matt Kenney (Mooresville, Ind./Mooresville) for a layup to make it 45-39 with 6:38 to play. The Huskies’ Zach Miller knocked down a 3-pointer to bring NIU back within three, but redshirt junior Will Bogan (Boise, Idaho/Vallivue [Ole Miss]) responded with a step-in jumper from 18 feet to push the lead back to five points.
Broekhoff then stepped up on the boards on the next two possessions, grabbing NIU’s misses both times on the defensive end and coming up with a key offensive board to keep a Valpo possession alive, one which culminated with a short jumper in the lane by Kenney to make it a seven-point game. Next time down, it was Broekhoff who found Bogan for a 3-pointer to put the Crusaders ahead 52-42 with 4:02 to play.
That would be Valpo’s last field goal of the game, capping runs of 21-5 and 14-3. But despite NIU hitting a pair of 3-pointers in the final two minutes, the Crusaders went 7-of-8 from the foul line to maintain their advantage until the final horn.
Valpo jumped out to an early 4-0 lead to start the game, but NIU scored the next seven points and would lead for the majority of the first 30 minutes. The Crusaders briefly gained the lead midway through the first half in a stretch where they held NIU scoreless for four minutes and Bogan hit a pair of 3-pointers, putting Valpo ahead 15-14, but the Huskies scored 10 of the next 12 points to gain a seven-point lead. Valpo’s deficit was 28-25 at the break, and NIU was able to extend the lead to the aforementioned six-point advantage before the Crusaders made their decisive run.
Broekhoff picked up his sixth double-double of the season to lead the Crusaders, ending the game with game highs of 19 points and 11 rebounds. Bogan finished one point off of his career high, canning four 3-pointers on his way to 18 points, while Kenney closed the game with nine points. Buggs dished out six assists on the night, a new season high, while also pulling down five rebounds and registering a team-best three of Valpo’s nine steals. The Crusaders shot just 41.9% from the field for the night, but took advantage of a 16-of-19 effort (84.2%) from the free throw line.
“Erik did a great job defensively getting his hands on a number of loose balls and got five big rebounds for us,” said Drew. “Will came in and hit some big shots when we needed them. And when we were getting hurt on the boards, Ryan took it in his own hands to crash the boards hard and get nearly every defensive rebound.”
Northern Illinois (0-11) was led by 12 points from Abdel Nader, but he went just 5-of-16 from the floor on the night. Keith Gray added nine points and seven rebounds off the bench. The Crusaders held NIU to 38.3% shooting from the floor and forced 20 turnovers.
Valparaiso (8-4) closes out the bulk of its non-league slate this Friday, Dec. 23 as the Crusaders make their second trip to Indianapolis this month, this time playing at Conseco Fieldhouse against former Mid-Con foe IUPUI. Tipoff is slated for noon CST, and as always, can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network. Links to the audio webcast, as well as live stats, will be available at www.valpoathletics.com.