Indianapolis, Ind. - A.J. Graves went 8-for-8 from the free throw in the final 45 seconds as Butler held off a furious Valpo rally in the closing seconds to defeat the Crusaders 72-69. Ron Howard led Valpo with 20 points, while Dan Oppland added 16 and Kenny Harris netted 14.
Brandon Polk led the Bulldogs with 19 points and eight rebounds, while Avery Sheets scored 12 of his 17 points in the second half. Graves finished with 15 points and Brandon Crone had 13 for Butler.
Valpo shot 54 percent overall (26-48), while Butler finished at 46 percent. The Bulldogs made 8-of-22 from 3-point range, while Valpo made 5-of-11. The Crusaders outrebounded Butler 29-23 as Harris had six boards for Valpo (14-13).
Howard scored nine points, including two, 3-pointers in the final 45 seconds. Harris made two layups during a 6-0 run in the final 1:40 to pull Valpo within four points (62-58). Graves hit two free throws with 45 seconds left to push Butler's lead to six. Howard answered with two free throws, but Graves, a 95 percent free throw shooter, added two more freebies with 40 seconds left to give Butler a 66-60 lead.
The second half began with several runs as Butler (11-14) scored the first five points before Valpo went on a 6-0 scoring spree to trim the Bulldogs' lead to 32-30. Oppland scored four and Harris had two during the run. However, Butler's 3-point marksmanship and a pair of second-chance baskets ignited an 8-2 run as Sheets made two treys.
Crone's 3-pointer gave Butler an 11-point lead (43-32) with 15 minutes left. After Oppland, Shawn Huff and Jimmie Miles each scored two points during a 6-2 Valpo run, Butler responded with a 6-0 scoring stretch behind baskets by Sheets, Bruce Horan and Graves.
Butler, which led for almost all of the first half, went on a 7-0 run midway through the period to extend an 11-9 lead to 18-11. Polk, who topped the Bulldogs with 11 first-half points, scored all seven points during the stretch.
After Crone swished a 3-pointer to give Butler a 21-13 advantage with eight minutes remaining, Valpo orchestrated a 6-0 run to pull within 21-19. Oppland made two baskets and Howard added a layup off a pass from Jarryd Loyd to complete the run.
Graves and Horan each drained 3-pointers in the last two minutes and Seth Colclasure netted a trey for the Crusaders as the Bulldogs held a 27-24 halftime lead. Howard led Valpo with eight points in the first 20 minutes.
Valpo shot 48 percent (11-23) in the first half, while Butler shot at a 42 percent clip. The Bulldogs made 4-of-12 from 3-point range before halftime, while Valpo was 2-of-5. Turnovers hurt the Crusaders as they committed eight to Butler's four in the first half.
Valpo plays its home finale Wednesday against IPFW beginning at 7:05 p.m.