Valparaiso erased a four-point halftime deficit and held Ball State to just 23.8% shooting in the second half on the way to a 67-53 road victory over the Cardinals on Sunday afternoon at Worthen Arena in Muncie, Ind.
“I’m really proud of our kids today,” head coach Keith Freeman said. “Everyone that played stepped up. In the second half we really came out strong and they were stuck on 35 for a long time. Our players did a better job communicating in the second half and did a good job getting to their shooters.”
Trailing 35-31 at intermission, the Crusaders scored the first 10 points of the second half, holding the Cardinals without a field goal for the first 7:20. Gina Lange (Wyoming, Minn./Forest Lake H.S.) put Valpo on top for good with a pair of free throws and Jessica Carr (Arcadia, Ind./Hamilton H.S.) capped the run with a three-pointer to make it 41-35.
Ashley Timmerman (Pontiac, Ill./Pontiac H.S.) extended the lead to double figures with a triple to make it 50-39 at the 9:12 mark.
Valpo’s defense force the Cardinals to start just 2-of-10 from the floor in the stanza and commit nine turnovers in the first 12 minutes after making just four miscues the entire first half.
Timmerman found Tabitha Gerardot (Fort Wayne, Ind./Canterbury H.S.) inside for a lay-in to increase the lead to 55-41 with under seven minutes to play.
Dressing just seven players to start the game, Valpo was down to five eligible student-athletes for the final 5:21 after Gerardot fouled out. The Crusaders lost Shaquira Scott (Wilmette, Ill./Loyola Academy) for the game in the first half due to injury.
“A lot of things could have happened when Shaq went down,” Freeman added. “For the most part we did a good job not fouling. We were fortunate to put ourselves in a position to win the game and that’s a testament to our kids’ dedication.”
The Crusaders maintained a double digit advantage the rest of the way though. Ashley Varner (South Bend, Ind./Washington H.S.) split two defenders and scored in the lane with 1:37 remaining to push the lead back to 13 and the Crusaders made free throws down the stretch to secure the victory.
“We got in the bonus early and scored 16 points at the free throw line today,” Freeman commented. “That really helped us.”
Ball State jumped out to an early 20-14 lead before six straight points by the Crusaders tied the game after Timmerman scored on a jumper with 7:24 to play in the first half.
The Cardinals answered with an 8-0 run of their own, making a pair of three-pointers as the shot clock expired. Valpo fought back though, and a pair of free throws by Carr just before break pulled Valpo within four at intermission.
Varner led the Crusaders with her second double-double of the season. The fifth-year senior matched a season-high with 18 points and pulled down 11 rebounds.
“Varner made big plays offensively and really rebounded well,” Freeman said. “Everyone contributed today. We had five in double figure and the one that didn’t score had eight assists and five steals.”
Five Crusaders finished the game in double figures with Gerardot adding 16 points while Carr chipped in a career-high 12 points. Lange posted 11 points and eight rebounds while Timmerman scored a season-high 10 points. Laura Richards (Connersville, Ind./Connersville H.S.) dished out eight assists while committing just one turnover and added a game-high five steals.
Valpo shot 47.8% from the floor on the day while Ball State (5-6) connected on just 36.5% from the field. The Cardinals were led by Jazmin Hitchens who scored 14 points off of the bench. Shelbie Justice added nine points and a team-high five boards as the Crusaders outrebounded the Cardinals 34-28 on the afternoon.
Valparaiso (3-7) will return home on Tuesday evening to host Eastern Illinois. Tip-off is slated for 7:05 p.m. at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
Game Notes: Ball State leads the all-time series 10-6 but the series it tied 4-4 in Muncie … Carr has posted back-to-back double figure scoring games … Gerardot has scored in double figures in six straight games … Varner’s double-double was the third of her career and Valpo’s sixth as a team this season … Richards moved into 17th place all-time at Valpo with 212 career assists, passing Lynda Kukla (1988-1992) … Valpo won after trailing at halftime for the first time this season … Ball State was whistled for 17 second half fouls.