Behind a career-best 24 points from senior guard Jarryd Loyd (Lincolnwood, Ill./Niles West), Valparaiso fought back from an early 17-point deficit and briefly tied the game three minutes into the second half at 37, but top-ranked North Carolina pulled away from there, utilizing a 27-2 run to eventually down the Crusaders, 90-58, Sunday night in Chapel Hill, N.C.
The Crusaders missed each of their first 11 shots from the field, allowing the Tar Heels to gain an early 13-0 advantage. Loyd broke the scoreless drought with a jumper 7:14 into the game to get Valpo on the board. UNC continued its early dominance, however, scoring the next six points to take a 19-2 lead with 11:15 remaining in the first half.
Valpo started playing even with the Tar Heels from that point, as the two squads traded baskets for most of the remainder of the first half. Loyd drilled three triples for the Crusaders over a four-possession span, helping to cut the UNC advantage down to 26-18 with 5:48 remaining in the opening stanza. The Tar Heels extended the lead back to 15 points with 2:55 left, but the Crusaders ended the period with an 11-1 spurt, capped by Loyd’s fourth triple of the half, to cut the halftime deficit to 36-31.
“I really was proud of our team in the first half,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “We got down 12-0, and I thought we showed great poise, great patience and great confidence to come back and make it an exciting end to the half.”
Shawn Huff (Helsinki, Finland/Makelanrinne) opened the second half for the Crusaders much like the first half ended, knocking down a jumper on the first possession to cut the lead to three points. Samuel Haanpää (Kerava, Finland/Cornerstone [Texas] Christian) hit a jumper of his own two possessions later to bring Valpo within 36-35, and after UNC split two free throws, Huff hit another shot with 17:31 to play to tie the game at 37 apiece, the first tie since the opening tip.
But the Tar Heels showcased why they are ranked as the nation’s top team, rolling off a 27-2 run over the next nine minutes. Danny Green scored 11 of UNC’s points during the stretch, knocking down three triples. Loyd ended the run with a bucket with 8:34 to play to cut the lead back down to 23 points, but the Crusaders could get no closer from there.
“You really have to compliment [North Carolina],” said Drew. “I thought Coach Williams did a great job adjusting, taking away the 3-point line from us with their length and quickness, and we just could not catch up to their speed.”
Loyd knocked down 9-of-17 shots from the floor for his career-high scoring total, including a career-best five 3-pointers. He was the only Crusader to reach double figures, however, as Haanpää was the next-highest Valpo scorer with nine points. Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) added eight points and four rebounds in six minutes of action.
Tyler Hansbrough led North Carolina (13-0) with 23 points and 13 rebounds, including a 9-of-10 effort from the free throw line. Green poured in 20 points off the bench to go with five assists, while Will Graves added 14 points and Deon Thompson chipped in 11 points.
Valparaiso (10-3) will return to action in 2008, returning home to the Athletics-Recreation Center to defend a 12-game home winning streak against NAIA foe Indiana Wesleyan, coached by former Crusader guard Greg Tonagel. Tipoff on Wednesday is slated 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; WWLO, 89.1 FM, Lowell) or online at www.valpo.edu/athletics. The game can also be seen online through the Horizon League Network.