Valparaiso snapped its five-game losing streak in emphatic fashion Tuesday evening at the Athletics-Recreation Center, handling Division III opponent North Park easily on its way to a 78-47 victory.
“I really felt like we improved again today, and it feels great to get back in the win column,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “Offensively, we did a great job moving the basketball and finding the open man, and on defense, we had a lot of good ball pressure to force turnovers which allowed us to get out and run.”
The Crusaders never trailed, taking a quick 10-2 lead into the first media timeout on five baskets in the paint, including three layups by Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School). The Vikings got a 3-pointer from Issa Avery out of the stoppage, but Erik Buggs (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell) answered with a trifecta of his own to keep the pressure on.
Both teams would go four minutes without scoring until the Crusaders got a tip-in from Benjamin Fumey (Bremen, Germany/Freie Hansestadt) with 9:20 to go in the half to get them going again. Valpo went on to score each of its next three possessions, getting points in the paint from Cameron Witt (Launceston, Tasmania, Australia/Launceston), De’Andre Haskins (Long Beach, Calif./La Lumiere [Ind.] School) and Brandon McPherson (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) to take a 21-5 advantage with 7:30 remaining in the opening stanza.
The Vikings would respond with a run into Valpo, however, scoring nine of the next 11 points over a four-minute span to cut the Crusader advantage to 23-14. Urule Igbavboa (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan) ended the run with a layup to push the lead back to double figures, sparking a 6-2 spurt to close the half as Valpo went into the break with a 29-16 lead.
Coming out of the locker room, it was all Crusaders, as Valpo put together a 10-0 run on its first four possessions of the second half. Buggs beat the shot clock with a 3-pointer to open the scoring, and the next time down the floor it was Little knocking down the trifecta from the corner.
On the Crusaders’ next defensive possession, Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) came up with a steal and started the fast break, one which Igbavboa finished on an alley-oop from Little. A Viking foul on the floor during the shot gave possession to Valpo out of bounds following the dunk, and the Crusaders took advantage, as Rogers fed Igbavboa for a layup to push the lead to 41-16. North Park would get no closer than 19 points the rest of the way.
Four Valpo players finished in double figures, led by a career-best 16 points by Little, who also paced the Crusaders with six rebounds and three steals. Igbavboa connected for 15 points, while Buggs and Witt added ten points apiece. Buggs also dished out a game-high five assists.
North Park (8-3) was led by 12 points and nine rebounds from Phil Schniedermeier. The Vikings also received 11 points from Clayton Cahill.
Valpo connected on 53.2% (33-of-62) of its shots compared to 45.0% (18-of-40) for North Park. The Crusader defense forced 26 Viking turnovers, which they converted into 36 points on the offensive end. Valpo also dominated the scoring in the paint, 48-18.
“We still have room for improvement, especially with a very good Butler team coming in here on Saturday,” said Drew. “We are excited though to put our first season, the pre-conference schedule, behind us and now start with the second season, the league slate.”
Valparaiso (4-9) will start the 2009 calendar year with a familiar foe when #25/RV Butler comes to town on Saturday. The Crusaders’ most-common opponent, Butler and Valpo squared off in a classic tussle at the ARC last season. The Bulldogs moved into the AP top-25 on Monday, making this the third consecutive year that they have been nationally ranked when visiting Valpo.Game time on Saturday is set for 7:05 p.m., and as always, 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. The game is also the first of seven Crusader men’s games being broadcast live this season on Lakeshore Public Television. Live video and statistics will also be available at www.valpoathletics.com.