Valparaiso jumped out to a 12-3 lead on unanimous #1/1 North Carolina Saturday afternoon at the Windy City Hoops Classic, played at the United Center in Chicago, Ill., and still led midway through the first half, but the Tar Heels eventually pulled away for an 85-63 victory.
The game marked the fifth consecutive year that Valpo has taken on the top-ranked team in the nation and the second straight year the Crusaders have faced North Carolina. It was also the third time in the past seven seasons that the Crusaders have hosted a top-ten opponent at the United Center.
“You’ve got to credit North Carolina,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “This is probably the most dominant of the five number-one teams that we have played. We doubled [Tyler] Hansbrough and it didn’t affect him at all. As a competitor, you get better by playing against someone better than you. We will take something out of this game and it really helps our players to see them play the way they do.”
The Crusaders raced out to a fast start in front of the crowd at the United Center, which numbered 10,645. Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) got it started with a
3-pointer on Valpo’s first possession, and a driving dunk by Urule Igbavboa (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan) gave the Crusaders a 5-1 lead just over two minutes into the game. After a layup by UNC’s Deon Thompson, Valpo responded immediately, as Erik Buggs (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell) found Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) for a layup.
Buggs added to the Crusader lead two possessions later, stealing the ball from Ty Lawson and going the length of the court for a fast-break layup. Valpo’s defense forced turnovers on each of the Tar Heels’ next three times down the court, and converted on their third opportunity, as Little knocked down an open trifecta to extend the lead to nine points just over four minutes in.
That would be Valpo’s largest lead, however, as UNC connected on 3-pointers on each of its next three trips to tie the game at 12. Igbavboa hit a layup to re-take the lead for the Crusaders, but the Tar Heels ran off five straight points to take the 17-14 advantage. Valpo would not give in that easily, as Rogers knocked down a triple and then got loose for a fast-break layup to regain the lead at 19-17.
The Tar Heels erased the Valpo advantage on their next possession with two free throws by Hansbrough, and a successful freebie by Thompson gave UNC the lead for good at 20-19 with 8:38 remaining in the half. The Crusaders traded baskets with UNC for the next few minutes, getting scores by Little, Rogers and Brandon McPherson (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North), who was making his season debut, to keep it within one point, but the Tar Heels rolled off ten straight points and went into halftime with a 41-31 advantage.
North Carolina scored the first nine points coming out of halftime to seize control with a 50-31 lead with 18:08 to play, but Igbavboa scored five straight points to keep Valpo within striking distance. The Crusaders kept the deficit in the mid-teens until midway through the second half, when an 11-2 Tar Heel spurt extended the lead into the 20s. UNC extended its lead to as much as 30 points before the Crusaders scored nine straight late in the game.
Igbavboa and Rogers led the Crusaders with 16 points apiece. Igbavboa knocked down five of his nine attempts from the floor and also dished out a team-high four assists, while Rogers hit six of eight from the floor. Little added nine points in his return to his hometown, while Buggs chipped in eight points.
“I thought Urule had his best passing day in a Valpo uniform,” said Drew. “He and Mike teamed up for some easy layups and that was really nice to see. Mike was super, running the floor especially well.”
Hansbrough led North Carolina (11-0) with 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting and was one of four Tar Heels in double figures. Thompson finished with 12 points and a game-high six rebounds.
The teams shot nearly identical percentages from the field, as UNC hit 46.4% (26-of-56) while Valpo connected on 45.7% (21-of-46) of its attempts. The Tar Heels forced 25 Valpo turnovers and converted them into 36 points, while the Crusaders outscored UNC in the paint, 30-24.
Valparaiso (3-7) returns to action Monday evening with the back end of a home-and-home series against UCF in Orlando, Fla. at 6 p.m. CST. All the action can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network (WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso; WAKE, 1500 AM, Valparaiso; WEFM, 95.9 FM, Michigan City; WWLO, 89.1 FM, Lowell) and online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have a link for live stats.