Valparaiso closed the first half on a 9-0 run to tie its game with Evansville Tuesday evening at the Athletics-Recreation Center, and followed with an 8-0 run late in the second half to break open a close game, going on to win by a final tally of 75-67. The win extends the Crusader winning streak to seven games, the longest since the 2002-2003 season, and moves Valpo’s overall record to 9-1, the best ten-game start in the 19-year tenure of head coach Homer Drew.
“I thought we really did a good job making adjustments in our offense at halftime,” said Drew. “We hit a lot of shots on our last road trip, and the shots weren’t falling in the first half, but we figured out ways both to get better looks from behind the arc and to get good penetration and get easier shots in the paint.”
Evansville broke open a close game midway through the first half, holding the Crusaders to just one field goal over an eight-minute span during a 12-2 run to go ahead 20-11 with eight minutes left in the half. The lead was still nine points at 30-21 with 3:41 remaining in the stanza when Valpo started its run. Samuel Haanpää (Kerava, Finland/Cornerstone [Texas] Christian) jump-started the spurt with a deep 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 30-24.
Shawn Huff (Helsinki, Finland/Makelanrinne) blocked a shot by Clint Hopf on Evansville’s possession, and Valpo got three shots at the basket on the offensive end, as Jake Diebler (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky) and Huff fought off the Purple Aces to grab offensive rebounds. The third time was the charm, as Huff hit a short jumper to cut the lead to four. Brandon McPherson (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) hit two free throws on Valpo’s next trip, and when Urule Igbavboa (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan) hit a jumper in the lane, the Crusaders tied the game at 30 going into the break.
Evansville scored 15 points in the first seven minutes of the second half, but Haanpää scored 15 of Valpo’s 17 points himself during the same span, going 5-for-6 from the field and 3-for-3 from the line, to give the Crusaders a two-point lead at 47-45 with 12:55 remaining. The Purple Aces went on a 7-0 spurt over the next minute and a half to gain a five-point advantage, but Valpo responded with 13 of the next 16 points to earn a 60-55 lead with 7:48 to play in the game.
The Purple Aces matched Valpo point-for-point over the next three minutes and cut the margin to one possession at 67-64 after a Pieter Van Tongeren putback with 4:30 left in the contest. The Crusaders proceeded to earn trips to the foul line on their next three possessions, knocking down four free throws to extend the lead to seven points with 3:28 to play. Igbavboa hit an off-balance jumper with the shot clock winding down to give Valpo a nine-point lead with 2:59 left, and Jarryd Loyd (Lincolnwood, Ill./Niles West) found a cutting McPherson under the basket for a layup to slam the door.
“Sam was just outstanding early in the second half keeping us in the game,” said Drew. “He made a bunch of big baskets and did a great job working to get open shots. Jarryd did a fantastic job of going and grabbing rebounds when we went with a smaller lineup, and I also thought Urule did a nice job in the second half of making smart decisions in the post when to shoot or pass.”
Haanpää paced the Crusaders with a game-high 20 points, while Igbavboa added 18 for his seventh straight game in double figures. Loyd chipped in 15 points off the bench, while also grabbing five rebounds and dishing out four assists without a turnover. Diebler and Igbavboa tied for team-high rebounding honors with six boards apiece, while Diebler also handed out four assists.
Shy Ely led four Evansville (3-5) players in double figures with 17 points. Van Tongeren added 14 points and seven rebounds, while Jason Holsinger registered 14 points and five assists. The Purple Aces out-shot the Crusaders from the floor, 50% to 47.2%, but Valpo took advantage of 25 trips to the charity stripe, knocking down 20 free throws.
Valparaiso (9-1) extended its home-court winning streak at the ARC to 11 games, one of the top-10 home-court streaks in the country. The Crusaders will attempt to win their 12th in a row at home on Saturday night as they host Chicago State. Tipoff is set for 7:05 p.m., and 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) or online at www.valpo.edu/athletics. The game can also be seen on the Horizon League Network at www.horizonleaguenetwork.tv.