The recipe was the same as it’s been all season long for the Valparaiso University men’s basketball team: defense and rebounding, joined Thursday night by a splash of outside shooting as the Crusaders took care of business at the ARC, defeating Cleveland State by a 77-52 final.
The defense was solid as ever, limiting the Vikings to just 52 points as Valpo lowered its scoring defense average to 59.6 ppg. Cleveland State ended the night shooting 40.9% from the field, but the Crusaders held CSU to just 3-of-10 shooting from 3-point range and forced 15 turnovers as well.
On the boards, Valpo continued its dominance, which has reached another level within Horizon League play. The Crusaders out-rebounded CSU 41-22 on Thursday night, limiting the Vikings to just five offensive boards while grabbing 16 offensive rebounds of their own – a difference which led to a 20-3 advantage in second chance points for Valpo. The Crusaders are now out-rebounding their opponents by better than 10 boards per game on the year and are a staggering +17.1 on the glass in league play.
Meanwhile, the 3-pointer kicked into gear on Thursday as well for the Crusaders. Valpo went 6-of-13 from deep in the first half to shoot Cleveland State out of its matchup zone, and the Crusaders added five triples in the second half as they finished at 45.8% (11-of-24) from deep. Junior Alec Peters (Washington, Ill./Washington) led the way with four 3-pointers as seven different players hit at least one shot from deep, while the 11 made 3-pointers as a team were the third-most in a single game by the Crusaders this season.
The Crusaders led nearly start to finish over the Vikings, but it would take a few minutes for things to kick into gear, as after leading early 8-2, Valpo saw its lead cut to two points at 12-10 halfway through the first half. That was when the 3-pointers started falling, as Valpo’s next five baskets were from downtown over a span of 4:10, pushing its lead to 27-18.
Another triple, this one from senior Darien Walker (Chicago, Ill./Simeon [John A. Logan/Arizona Western]), made it an 11-point lead, and in the final minute of the half, Walker would score a pair of baskets – including an alley-oop from fellow senior Keith Carter (Maywood, Ill./Proviso East [Saint Louis]) – to make it a 36-23 advantage at the break.
Cleveland State scored 15 seconds into the second half to cut the lead to 11, but the Crusaders went on a 20-5 run over the next seven minutes to put the game away. Peters scored eight points, including a pair of triples during the run, while Carter and junior Jubril Adekoya (Tinley Park, Ill./Andrew) added 3-pointers as well and junior Shane Hammink (Millingen aan de Rijn, Netherlands/Oakley College [LSU]) punctuated things with a one-handed tomahawk down the lane. The 26-point lead never fell under 18 points the rest of the way.
All 13 Crusaders who dressed saw action on Thursday, 12 of them scoring, while no player saw more than 29 minutes of playing time. Peters led the balanced effort with 18 points and six rebounds, while Hammink (4-of-6, three assists) and sophomore David Skara (Zadar, Croatia/Ekonomska Skola Zadar) each added 10 points to finish in double figures.
Four other Crusaders scored at least seven points, including a pair of impressive stat lines from Carter – seven points, five rebounds, seven assists – and senior Vashil Fernandez (Kingston, Jamaica/Princeton Day [Md.] Academy), who finished with eight points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots. Valpo ended the night shooting 50% overall from the field and assisted on 19 of its 29 made field goals.
Cleveland State (7-15, 2-7 Horizon) was paced by 13 points from Rob Edwards. Demonte Flannigan and Kenny Carpenter added 10 points each as well.
Valparaiso (18-4, 8-1 Horizon), which extended its home winning streak to 23 straight wins with the victory Thursday, returns to action at the ARC Saturday night when it hosts Youngstown State on Space Jam Night. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m., and as always, all the action can be seen on ESPN3.com and heard on WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso). Links for the live video, audio and statistics will be available via ValpoAthletics.com.