Cleveland State composed a 15-3 run late in the second half Thursday night at the Athletics-Recreation Center to pull away from Valparaiso, as the Vikings defeated the Crusaders by a 71-58 score.
Valpo led by a point at halftime, 35-34, but Cleveland State took the lead on a basket by Breyohn Watson just over a minute into the second stanza. The Vikings extended the lead in the early portions of the half to as many as eight points, but the Crusaders rallied back. Shawn Huff (Helsinki, Finland/Makelanrinne) scored five straight to bring Valpo back to within three points, and after a CSU basket, Urule Igbavboa (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan) threw down a two-handed slam and completed the conventional 3-point play at the foul line to bring the Crusaders to within 49-47 with 12:34 left.
The next three minutes saw the Vikings maintain a slim lead. Twice Cleveland State put points on the board to pull ahead by four, but first Igbavboa and then Huff responded with baskets to cut the deficit back down to two points. A 3-pointer by CSU’s Kevin Francis with 8:49 remaining put the Vikings on top 56-51, but a cutting Brandon McPherson (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) took a pass from Jake Diebler (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky) in the lane and laid it in on Valpo’s next possession to cut the lead to 56-53 with 8:34 to play.
But that would be the Crusaders’ last field goal for over eight minutes, as the Vikings went on their game-clinching run. Seven different players scored for Cleveland State during the spurt. McPherson briefly slowed the Vikings’ momentum with a pair of free throws with 4:11 remaining, cutting the margin back down to nine points, and Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) added a point of his own after a Cedric Jackson jumper to cut the lead to 66-56 with 3:46 to play. But J’Nathan Bullock hit a 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down on CSU’s next trip down the court to virtually put away the game.
Valpo took the lead early in the game on the strength of two Samuel Haanpää (Kerava, Finland/Cornerstone [Texas] Christian) triples, going out in front 9-6 five minutes in. Cleveland State scored 18 of the next 24 points over an eight-minute span to go ahead by nine points, however, and extended its first-half edge to as many as 11 points at 30-19 with 5:43 to play in the half.
But, as they have done so often this year, the Crusaders ended the half on an impressive run. This time, it was a 16-4 spurt for Valpo over the final 5:25 of the stanza. Diebler led the way during the run with two triples and McPherson added four points, including a basket with 38 seconds left to tie the game at 34. The Crusaders would go into the locker room with the 35-34 lead when Igbavboa split a pair of free throws after getting fouled with under two ticks on the clock.
Igbavboa paced the Crusaders on the night with 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the field. Huff added 13 points and a game-high seven rebounds, while McPherson scored 11 points of his own. Jarryd Loyd (Lincolnwood, Ill./Niles West) dished out seven assists to tie for game-high honors.
Cleveland State (17-10, 10-5 Horizon) got 19 points, six rebounds and four assists from Bullock. Cedric Jackson scored 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting and handed out seven helpers as well, while Joe Davis chipped in 11 points off the bench. The Vikings took advantage of 50% (27-of-54) shooting from the field, including 52.9% (9-of-17) from behind the arc, versus the Crusaders’ 41.3% (19-of-46) and 39.1% (9-of-23) marks, respectively.
Valparaiso (14-11, 5-8 Horizon) will attempt to snap its losing streak on Saturday evening when Youngstown State comes to the ARC. Tipoff is set for 7:05 p.m., and it is the 10th anniversary reunion of the Crusaders’ 1997-98 squad that advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. The game, as always, 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. It can also be viewed online through the Horizon League Network.