Ashley Varner (South Bend, Ind./Washington H.S.) and Ieva Jansone (Riga, Latvia/AgenskalaGymnasium H.S.) both tallied career highs on Saturday afternoon and Valparaiso used a 23-3 run spanning both halves to cruise to a 66-48 victory over Cleveland State at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland, Ohio.
Varner finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds for her sixth double-double of the season while Jansone came off of the bench to add 12 points after having tallied just 12 points in her entire Valpo career entering the contest.
“Ashley Varner was very, very active today,” head coach Keith Freeman said. “We were able to feed off of her energy. Ieva came in and made some nice plays for us, giving us some offensive bench production.”
The Crusaders used solid defense to build the lead, holding the Vikings to just 13 first half points. Cleveland State shot just 22.2% (6-of-27) before intermission while committing 11 first half turnovers.
Valpo took the lead for good early behind a 9-0 spurt that kept the Vikings without scoring for nearly five points. Gina Lane (Wyoming, Minn./Forest Lake H.S.) scored inside and was fouled and Tabitha Gerardot (Fort Wayne, Ind./Canterbury H.S.) followed with an inside bucket.
After Cleveland State closed to within 13-10, Valpo locked down defensively, holding the Vikings without points for nearly seven-and-a-half minutes. Jansone scored six points, and Varner added four more as part of a 14-0 run. Honesty King hit a three-pointer for the Vikings with just 19 seconds to play before half to end the Cleveland State scoring drought but Valpo still took a 27-13 lead into the locker room.
“I thought our kids bounced back strong from a tough game at Youngstown State,” Freeman stated. “Today we were able to play a good first half and really kept their score down. We then came out really strong the second half.”
The Crusaders scored the first nine points of the second, capping a 23-3 run with a Varner triple, to extend the lead to 36-13. After the Vikings connect from long range, Valpo adds seven more points, keyed by a Laura Richards (Connersville, Ind./Connersville H.S.) basket and foul to extend the advantage to 43-16 at the 14:14 mark.
“We took fewer threes today, got the ball inside more, and took the ball to the basket,” commented Freeman. “We also did a good job crashing the offensive boards.”
Cleveland State went on an 8-0 run, its only spurt of the game, to close within 19 with just under 13 minutes to play, but could not get any closer than 16 points the rest of the way.
“We mixed up three different defenses today and this was the best we have played all year at changing up the defenses,” Freeman said.
Valpo made its free throws, connecting on 24-of-30 from the charity line in the contest, to hold off the Vikings. Varner made 13 charity tosses as part of her career high.
Gerardot added 12 points to give Valpo three double figure scorers, while pulling down eight rebounds, while Richards added nine points while playing all 40 minutes. Lange also pulled down eight caroms as the Crusaders outrebounded Cleveland State 50-32 on the afternoon.
“Tabitha and Gina did a really nice job rebounding the basketball today,” Freeman added. “We really did a good job as a team today getting to the boards.”
Shalonda Winton led Cleveland State (8-14, 3-8 Horizon), scoring 28 of the team’s 48 points, while grabbing seven rebounds. Takima Keane added eight points for the Vikings.
Valparaiso (6-16, 2-9) will wrap up its three-game road trip next Saturday (Feb. 11) afternoon as the Crusaders travel to Indianapolis, Ind. Tip-off against Butler is slated for 1 p.m. CST.
Game Notes: Valpo leads the all-time series 13-9 and snapped a five game losing skid against the Vikings … the Crusaders are 9-2 all-time at Cleveland State … Keith Freeman coached his 700th women’s collegiate game on Saturday and is 411-289 all-time … Valpo made its first 11 free throws of the game … Varner finished 13-of-18 at the free throw line, the third most attempts in a single game in school history … Richards had two assists and passed Kathryn Knoester (2000-2004) for 10th all-time at Valpo with 258 for her career … Varner’s previous career high was 23 points at Cincinnati in 2009 … Varner’s 26 points were the most by a Crusader this season … Valpo shot 37.7% from the floor, earning its first win this season when shooting below 40%.