Valparaiso held an eight-point lead midway through the first half and trailed by just three at halftime, but Cleveland State shot at a staggering 82.4% clip in the second half to hold off the Crusaders, 71-64.
The Crusaders were the ones that got out to a hot start on the offensive end, canning seven of their first nine shots from the field en route to taking a 19-11 lead midway through the opening stanza. Sophomore guard Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) stood out during the run, throwing down a highlight-reel dunk on the fast break while getting fouled en route to nine early points. His triple with 10:05 remaining in the half gave Valpo its largest lead to cap the run.
“I thought that first ten minutes or so was some of the best basketball we could have played,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “Mike really did a good job getting us off to that great start, and Urule and De’Andre both made some big plays as well near the beginning.”
A Cameron Witt (Launceston, Tasmania, Australia/Launceston) tip dunk pushed the Crusader lead back out to six points at 23-17 with 7:05 remaining in the opening stanza, but the Vikings scored nine straight points over the next four minutes to take the lead. De’Andre Haskins (Long Beach, Calif./La Lumiere [Ind.] School) slowed the momentum with a 3-pointer at the 2:47 mark to tie it at 26, and Urule Igbavboa (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan) again knotted it up at 28 with a layup with 53 seconds remaining. But that was the last time Valpo would hold a share of the lead, as George Tandy sent Cleveland State into the break with a 31-28 lead thanks to an old-fashioned 3-point play.
“Cleveland State came back at us with a good bit more defensive intensity after that opening run, starting the full-court press, and we did not handle it very well,” said Drew. “We just were not mentally tough enough to stop them from going on a run, and once they got going, we could not slow them down.”
A 3-point play by Igbavboa 2:27 into the second half brought the Crusaders back within two points, but Cleveland State scored the next eight points over a 3:26 span to pull ahead by double figures. The lead hovered around the ten-point mark for much of the second half until a late 10-0 run, capped by a J’Nathan Bullock layup, put the Vikings ahead 65-48 with 2:42 to play.
Valpo had one last rally left in it, however. A pair of free throws by Haskins and a triple by Rogers made it 65-53 with 1:31 remaining. Erik Buggs (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell) came up with a steal on the next defensive possession and got the ball ahead to Haskins for a fast-break layup with 48 seconds left. After CSU missed the front end of a one-and-one, the Crusaders missed a triple, but a Viking turnover gave them the ball back, and Igbavboa banked in a 3-pointer to make it 65-58 with under 30 seconds to play. But despite a 3-point play from Haskins and a triple by Buggs in the final 30 seconds, Valpo could get no closer than five, as Cleveland State went 6-for-6 from the foul line the rest of the way.
“I was really proud of the way we ended the game,” said Drew. “We finished really strong, running our end-of-game plays and fouling when we needed to foul. I loved the fact we did not quit or give up, even when we were down 17 late.”
Haskins and Rogers tied for team-high scoring honors with 18 points apiece, as each of them connected on 6-of-10 shots from the field. Igbavboa added 17 points and team-high totals of eight rebounds and four assists.
Bullock led all players with 25 points on 9-of-11 shooting, while Tandy chipped in 15 off the bench for Cleveland State (21-9, 12-5 Horizon) in the winning effort. Norris Cole added 11 points and six assists, while D’Aundray Brown scored ten points and pulled down nine rebounds. The Vikings shot at a 61.0% (25-of-41) clip for the game, helped by their sterling second half, while the Crusaders hit 51.1% (24-of-47) of their shots.
Valparaiso (8-21, 4-13 Horizon) closes out the regular season at home on Saturday evening as the Crusaders host Youngstown State at 7:05 p.m. It will be Senior Night at the ARC, as seniors Igbavboa and Jake Diebler (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky) will be recognized before the game and will address the crowd following the contest. 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) and online at www.valpoathletics.com. Live video and statistics will also be available through the official Crusader website.