Valparaiso was up by as many as 11 points in the first half and held a five-point halftime lead at Milwaukee Monday evening, but the Panthers started the second half on a 17-4 run to take the lead for good en route to a 61-47 win over the Crusaders.
“I really liked the way we came out and started the game,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “We scored nine quick points and played great defense throughout the first half, getting our hands up and making Milwaukee take tough shots. You have to give Milwaukee credit though; they are a well-coached team that shoots the three really well, as we saw in the second half.”
It was a fast start for the Crusaders Monday, as Valpo got out to a 9-3 lead before the first media timeout. Urule Igbavboa (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan) got the Crusader scoring started with a layup, followed by Erik Buggs (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell) feeding Jake Diebler (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky) for a fast-break triple. Buggs also assisted on a fast-break layup by Benjamin Fumey (Bremen, Germany/Freie Hansestadt), while Igbavboa found Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) in the opening spurt.
Logan Jones (Madison, Ind./Madison) and Little each hit 3-pointers to keep the pressure on the Panthers, with the latter giving Valpo a 17-10 advantage just past the halfway point in the opening stanza. A jumper in the paint by Rogers and a fast-break layup by Brandon McPherson (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) pushed the Crusader lead into double figures with 5:58 remaining in the half. The Panthers would end the half on an 8-2 run, however, to cut Valpo’s lead to five at the break at 23-18.
Fumey started the second half with a layup off a feed by Buggs to extend the lead to seven, but the Panthers started to connect from behind the arc to quickly erase the lead. Ricky Franklin and Avery Smith hit triples on back-to-back possessions to cut the lead to one point, and Smith connected on a jumper with 17:44 to play to give Milwaukee the lead for good. Tone Boyle also added a 3-pointer during the 17-4 run to open the second half as the Panthers pulled away to a 35-27 lead with 14:35 remaining.
The lead reached as many as 13 points with 11:28 to play when Valpo made a mini-run to bring the deficit back to a reasonable margin. Igbavboa hit a pair of free throws, while McPherson got loose for a layup and a 3-pointer during a 7-2 spurt to bring the Crusaders back within 46-38 with 8:54 left.
Milwaukee would push the lead back to 11 with six minutes remaining before Rogers nailed a triple and Igbavboa converted two more attempts at the charity stripe to make it a two-possession contest with 5:03 on the clock. But the Panthers found their way to the free throw line, getting there on four consecutive possessions to key a 9-0 run that put the game away.
Igbavboa led Valpo with 12 points, but was the only Crusader to reach double digits in scoring. McPherson scored eight off the bench, while Little scored seven points and grabbed a game-high nine rebounds, including five on the offensive end. Buggs handed out a game-best four assists.
Smith paced Milwaukee (9-5, 5-0 Horizon) with 22 points and also registered five steals. Boyle added ten points as well for the Panthers. The Crusaders held Milwaukee to 0-of-11 shooting from behind the arc in the first half, but the Panthers made 6-of-11 from 3-point range in the second stanza.
Valparaiso (4-11, 1-3 Horizon) returns to the Athletics-Recreation Center for a weekend homestand, beginning with a Thursday night tilt against Detroit. Tipoff 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. Live video and statistics will also be available through the official Crusader website.