Jake Diebler (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky) set a new career high with 16 points, including three key 3-pointers in the second half, as Valparaiso defeated Centenary, 66-62, Thursday night in Shreveport, La. in the Mid-Con opener for both squads.
Diebler's last triple came with 4:55 to play, giving Valpo a 52-45 advantage. Centenary continued to chip away at the Crusader lead, however, getting back to within one possession on a Larry Logan dunk with 41 seconds left. After the two teams traded two free throws, Samuel Haanpaa (Kerava, Finland/Cornerstone [Texas] Christian) drained two attempts from the charity stripe to extend the Valpo lead to five.
The Gents continued to battle, getting a 3-pointer from Nick Stallings with 10 seconds left to cut the deficit to 64-62. Brandon McPherson (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) had the ball stripped in the backcourt on the ensuing possession, and Logan went to the line with a chance to tie the game. But after missing his first free throw, Logan intentionally missed the second, and Urule Igbavboa (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan) got up to get the rebound and seal the game.
The Crusaders got off to a slow start, as Centenary jumped out to a 10-2 advantage at the first media timeout. Valpo used an 8-2 run out of the timeout to cut the lead to two, and took its first lead of the game late in the half on an Igbavboa layup. Igbavboa scored seven of his nine first half points in the last five minutes of the stanza to help Valpo to a 25-20 halftime lead.
Valpo stormed out the gate in the second half on a 7-0 run, getting a Diebler triple sandwiched by layups from Moussa Mbaye (Dakar, Senegal/Life Center [N.J.] Academy) to extend the lead to 12. The Crusaders maintained a double-digit advantage for much of the next 10 minutes before Centenary went on a 7-0 run of its own to cut the lead to six and set up the final sequence.
Diebler led four Crusaders in double figures in the game, the third time this year that four players have scored at least 10 points for Valpo, all victories. Igbavboa accounted for 14 points and a team-best 11 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season. McPherson scored 12 points, including 6-of-7 from the free throw line, while Haanpaa chipped in 10 points, going 7-of-8 from the charity stripe.
The Crusaders hit their free throws down the stretch to maintain their lead, hitting 21-of-25 (84.0%) for the game. Valpo shot just 39.2% (20-of-51) from the field, including a 29.4% (5-of-17) clip from behind the arc.
Centenary (6-10, 0-1 Mid-Con) also put four players in double digits, led by 16 points and 15 rebounds from Larry Logan. Alexander Starr scored 15 points, while Tyrone Hamilton added 12 and Nick Stallings chipped in 11 for the Gents.
Valparaiso (6-8, 1-0 Mid-Con) heads to Tulsa, Okla. Saturday afternoon to take on Mid-Con preseason favorite Oral Roberts. The tip is set for 3:05 p.m., and as always, all the action 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 picked up by Lakeshore Public Television, with Kevin Ward and Mike Wolfe on the call.