Valparaiso played solid defense and shot 50% from the floor on Thursday evening as the Crusaders earned a much-needed victory on the road, defeating Cleveland State 66-52 in Cleveland, Ohio.
With the victory, the Crusaders moved into a fifth place tie with Butler, one-half game in front of Youngstown State.
“We had a strong defensive effort tonight and this was a good team win,” Valpo head coach Keith Freeman said. “This was probably our most physical game of the season.”
Leading by seven at intermission, Valpo started the second half with a 10-2 run, and Launa Hochstetler’s (Berlin, Ohio/Hiland H.S.) put the Crusaders in front 39-24 with 16:11 to play in the game. Valpo kept the lead between 11 and 17 until a 7-0 run pushed the lead to 20, 56-36, with 8:18 to play.
The Crusaders maintained a 19-point advantage with 4:08 to go until the Vikings ran off eight straight points to cut the edge to 11, 61-50, with 1:23 to go. Aimee Litka (South Bend, Ind./Saint Joseph’s H.S.) hit a three to clinch the victory down the stretch.
The Vikings jumped out to an 11-6 lead, and after Valpo fought back to tie, rebuilt the five-point advantage 16-11 with 9:07 to play in the first half.
Valpo responded with an 11-2 run, keyed by triples by Litka and Kelly Peller (Chesterton, Ind./Chesterton H.S.). Agnieszka Kulaga (Tarnow, Poland/I Liceum Ogolnoksztalcace H.S.) hit a jumper to put the Crusaders in front 19-18, and a Whitney Farris (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo H.S.) three pushed the lead to four.
The Crusaders finished the half scoring the final five points, holding the Vikings scoreless for the final three minutes, to take a 29-22 lead into the break.
Valpo’s defense helped stake the Crusaders to a seven-point halftime lead as Cleveland State shot just 26.5% (9-of-34) from the floor in the opening stanza.
Kulaga led Valpo with 16 points and six rebounds on the evening, while Litka added 14 more, the 24th time this season the junior has found double figures. Peller also added 10 for the Brown and Gold.
“We had good, balanced scoring tonight, and shot the ball well,” Freeman added.
The Crusaders shot 45% (9-of-20) from three-point range, while holding the Vikings to just 2-of-21 (9.5%) from beyond the arc on the night.
Kailey Klein led Cleveland State (15-11, 9-6 Horizon League) with 25 points and seven boards.
Valpo outrebounded the Vikings 38-34, just the third time this season the Crusaders have won the battle on the boards.
Valparaiso (13-14, 8-8) stays in the state of Ohio on Saturday afternoon as the Crusaders battle the Penguins of Youngstown State. Tip-off in Youngstown, Ohio is set for 3:30 p.m. CST with all the action carried live on WVUR (95.1-FM, Valparaiso). The game can also be seen live on the Horizon League Network.