Valparaiso allowed Milwaukee to hit just four first-half field goals on its way to a 12-point halftime advantage, and never trailed in the second half, as the Crusaders won 66-57 Monday evening in Milwaukee, Wis.
“This was a very important win for us today,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “Any game on the road in this league is tough, as every team is capable of beating every other team. We played a good game and finished well, and now we have the chance to go home and earn a first-round home game.”
Milwaukee hit two of its first six shots from the field on its way to an early 5-3 lead, but the Crusaders clamped down from there, as the Panthers hit just two of their final 21 field goal attempts of the opening stanza. Valpo scored the next nine points to gain a seven-point advantage, and extended the lead to as many as 14 points before taking a 28-16 lead into the break.
Shawn Huff (Helsinki, Finland/Makelanrinne) led the Crusaders in the opening 20 minutes with eight points on 3-of-4 shooting. Freshman Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) added six points and five rebounds in the first half to help stake Valpo to the 12-point lead.
The Panthers clawed back into the game by scoring the first seven points of the second half to cut the lead to 28-23. But the Crusaders maintained the lead, keeping the advantage anywhere from three to eight points for the first 10 minutes of the stanza. A 3-pointer by Bryan Bouchie (Washington, Ind./Washington) put Valpo ahead 41-33 with 12 minutes remaining, but Milwaukee ran off a 7-1 spurt over the next 3:09 to cut the lead down to two points with 8:51 to play.
Brandon McPherson (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) answered the Milwaukee threat immediately with a 3-pointer to stop the run and put the Crusaders back up five points. Valpo kept the Panthers at bay for the next few minutes until back-to-back Milwaukee triples cut the Crusader lead to 50-49 with 5:58 remaining. Again, Valpo responded, this time on a baseline jumper by Huff off an inbounds play to push the lead back to three.
A free throw by the Panthers cut the lead back down to 52-50, but another Crusader stepped up, as Urule Igbavboa (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan) hit three-of-four free throws over a two-possession span to put Valpo up five with four minutes left. Milwaukee missed a 3-pointer on its next possession, and after running the shot clock nearly all the way down, Jarryd Loyd (Lincolnwood, Ill./Niles West) nailed a triple to extend the lead to 58-50 with 3:01 on the clock.
Milwaukee would make one last attempt at a comeback, as Jason Averkamp converted a layup with one minute to play to slice the lead down to 59-56. But the Crusaders closed out the game from the free throw line, connecting on seven of their eight attempts in the final 60 seconds to secure the win.
“It was wonderful to see our free throw shooters step up down the stretch,” said Drew. “Urule, Brandon, Jarryd and Jake all connected on some crucial free throws to help us close out the game.”
McPherson led the Crusaders with 17 points in 30 minutes of action off the bench, including four 3-pointers. Loyd added 12 points, while Huff scored 11 on 4-of-5 shooting. Rogers scored eight points and grabbed a career-high nine rebounds in his second start, while Igbavboa pulled down nine boards of his own.
Milwaukee (13-14, 8-8 Horizon) was led by a career-best 21 points from Averkamp. Ricky Franklin was the only other Panther to reach double figures with 11 points. Valpo held Milwaukee to just 26.8% shooting from the floor on the game, including 21.9% from behind the arc, while the Crusaders connected on 43.8% and 38.1%, respectively.
Valparaiso (17-12, 7-9 Horizon) returns home to the Athletics-Recreation Center for its final two Horizon League games this weekend. The Crusaders kick off the crucial pair of contests with a game against Detroit at 7:05 p.m. on Thursday. The game can be seen live throughout Chicagoland on Lakeshore Public Television, 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; WWLO, 89.1 FM, Lowell) or online at www.valpo.edu/athletics.