Valparaiso utilized a rare eight-point possession to seize momentum early in the second half Thursday night against Southern Utah, and easily pulled away for a 75-48 victory over the Thunderbirds at the Athletics-Recreation Center. With the win, Valpo clinches the three seed in the upcoming Mid-Continent Conference Tournament.
Southern Utah entered the second stanza up 28-26 after a first half that was tight throughout, and extended its lead to four with the first basket of the half. Jake Diebler (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky) answered immediately with a 3-pointer, and Shawn Huff (Helsinki, Finland/Makelanrinne) followed with a layup to regain the lead for Valpo, 31-30. Just over a minute later, the improbable sequence began.
Urule Igbavboa (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan) started the series of events with a bucket at the 17:24 mark while being fouled. Igbavboa proceeded to miss the free throw, but Diebler came out with the offensive rebound and passed it back out. Diebler received a return pass and launched a 3-pointer that was off the mark, but Huff came down with the board. Huff proceeded to dish it to Samuel Haanpaa (Kerava, Finland/Cornerstone [Texas] Christian), who also missed his shot from outside the arc.
Diebler came up with the loose ball, his second offensive rebound of the possession, and immediately kicked it out to Jarryd Loyd (Lincolnwood, Ill./Niles West) for an open 3-pointer at the 17:08 mark, giving Valpo a 36-30 lead. But while Loyd's shot was in the air, Diebler was fouled underneath the basket while fighting for position, giving the Crusaders the ball out of bounds. Huff inbounded to Loyd, who immediately launched another triple that found the basket, extending the Crusader edge to 39-30 with 17:03 to play.
Huff proceeded to score Valpo's next ten points over the next four minutes, hitting two shots from the floor and all six of his free throw attempts. But the Thunderbirds countered with 10 points of their own, and after Tate Sorensen completed a 3-point play with 12:57 left, Southern Utah was still within nine at 49-40.
The Crusaders completely shut the door on the T'Birds from that point on, however, giving up just one field goal over the next 10 minutes while going on a 24-3 run. Six different Valpo players scored during the run, led by eight points from Haanpaa, and when Calum MacLeod (Wellington, New Zealand/Hutt Valley [Northeastern J.C.]) hit his second basket of the game with 3:03 to play, the Crusaders were up 30 and had the victory sealed.
As has been the case for Valpo all season, balance was the key to its offensive performance, as six different players scored at least eight points, while all 10 Crusaders who dressed scored at least two points. Huff led Valpo with 14 points, while Igbavboa scored 13 and pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the season. Haanpaa and Loyd scored 11 apiece, while Diebler and Brandon McPherson (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) each had eight. Diebler, Huff and Loyd shared team-high assists honors with four each.
Swaney Cooper scored 12 points, the only Southern Utah (16-12, 6-7 Mid-Con) player to reach double figures. Cooper also led the Thunderbirds with eight rebounds. Steve Barnes dished out five assists, but scored just two points on 1-of-10 shooting, 12 points below his season average.
Valpo shot at a 50.9% (28-of-55) clip for the game, including 60.7% (17-of-28) after the break. The Crusaders were even better behind the arc, draining 10-of-19 (52.6%) triples. Southern Utah hit 41.7% of its shots, but managed just three 3-pointers. Valpo held a 34-27 advantage on the boards, and dished out 17 assists while committing just 11 turnovers.
Valparaiso (15-14, 8-5 Mid-Con) closes out regular season play Saturday at the ARC against UMKC. Senior center Moussa Mbaye (Dakar, Senegal/Life Center [N.J.] Academy) will be honored during Senior Night festivities, and will address the crowd following the game. After his words, the entire team will be available for an autograph session.
Game time is set for 7:05 p.m., and the game can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network (WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso; WEFM, 95.9 FM, Michigan City; WAKE, 1500 AM, Valparaiso) and online at www.valpo.edu/athletics. The game will also be televised on Lakeshore Public Television and videocast on the athletics website, with Dick Harlan and Todd Medland on the call.