A tenacious Valparaiso squad earned its first lead of the game with just over six minutes to play, and following 11 straight Butler points fought back to within two with 90 seconds remaining, but the 13th-ranked Bulldogs hit enough free throws down the stretch to hold off the Crusaders’ upset bid Friday evening, 59-51.
“I was very pleased with our effort on the defensive end in both halves and with our moxie in fighting back from deficits, both early on and in the second half,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “We just committed too many turnovers (21) and gave up too many second-chance opportunities (Butler ten offensive rebounds, 12 second-chance points), and Butler made the plays they needed to win the game.”
Valpo trailed the Bulldogs by eight points with 11:29 to play after a 3-pointer by Garrett Butcher, but strung together eight straight points to force a tie at 37-37. Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) knocked down a jumper to start the spurt, while Logan Jones (Madison, Ind./Madison) and Urule Igbavboa (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan) each knocked down 3-pointers, the latter of which drew the Crusaders even.
The two teams traded pairs of points on their next two possessions, with Valpo getting layups by Jones and Igbavboa on the offensive end to stay tied. The Crusaders forced a Zach Hahn turnover to get the ball back with a chance to take the lead, and Jones took advantage, finding his way into the Bulldog defense and getting to the foul line. The freshman stepped up and calmly knocked down both attempts at the charity stripe to give Valpo its first lead at 43-41 with 6:05 remaining.
Butler responded in a big way, however, reeling off 11 points in a row. Willie Veasley scored six points during the run, while Matt Howard added four, including a 3-point play with 2:48 to play. Following a Crusader miss, Howard split a pair of free throws with 2:15 left to give the Bulldogs a seemingly insurmountable 52-43 advantage.
But the Crusaders would not give the game up without one last surge. Valpo got a quick 3-pointer from Rogers on its next trip down the floor, as Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) found him in the corner for the triple just seven seconds after Howard’s free throw. The defense forced a missed layup by Veasley, and on the offensive end, Jake Diebler (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky) converted a rare 4-point play off a feed from Jones. All of a sudden, Valpo was back within two at 52-50 with 91 seconds to play.
Ronald Nored hit two free throws for the Bulldogs on their next trip to extend the lead back to four, and the Crusaders missed a pair from the stripe on their offensive possession. Forced to foul, Butler’s Shelvin Mack split two attempts to make it a five-point game, and after the teams traded steals, Igbavboa hit one of two to cut the margin back to four points. But Zach Hahn converted on a pair with 10 seconds to play to make it 57-51, and Valpo could not connect on their next trip as the Bulldogs held on for the win.
Butler got off to a quick start to the game, scoring the first ten points of the contest over the first five minutes. The Bulldogs maintained the lead for most of the opening stanza, leading by as many as 11 points, 19-8 with 5:18 to go in the half. But Valpo reeled off 11 straight points over the next three minutes, getting triples from Little, Igbavboa and De’Andre Haskins (Long Beach, Calif./La Lumiere [Ind.] School) to keep the game close, and Butler would carry just a 24-22 lead into the break.
Igbavboa paced the Crusaders with 15 points, eight rebounds, and season-high totals of five assists and four blocks. Jones came off the bench for the first double-digit scoring effort of his career, scoring ten points, including 5-of-6 from the charity stripe. The freshman also handed out a pair of assists without committing a turnover while running the point in his 22 minutes of action.
“I really thought this was the best game of Logan’s career so far,” said Drew. “He did a great job handling the basketball for us and making sound decisions with the ball in his hands, and also did a great job getting into the lane, drawing fouls and converting at the free throw line.”
Butler (19-1, 10-0 Horizon), which won its record-tying 21st straight Horizon League contest, was led by 18 points from Gordon Hayward. Veasley added 13 points, while Howard scored nine points and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds.
The two squads shot similar percentages both from the field (Butler 37.8%, Valpo 36.2%) and from behind the arc (Valpo 35.7%, Butler 31.6%). But the Bulldogs took better advantage of their trips to the free throw line, knocking down 19 of their 30 free throw attempts to just 7-of-14 from the stripe for Valpo.
Valparaiso (6-16, 3-8 Horizon) continues its three-game league road trip next Thursday, February 5, traveling to Dayton, Ohio to take on Wright State. As always, all the action can also be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network (WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso; WAKE, 1500 AM, Valparaiso; WEFM, 95.9 FM, Michigan City) and online at www.valpoathletics.com. Live video and statistics will also be available through the official Crusader website.