Valparaiso men’s basketball seniors Jake Diebler (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky) and Urule Igbavboa (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan) went out winners at the Athletics-Recreation Center one last time on Saturday evening, as the Crusaders rallied from nine points down to defeat Youngstown State, 67-59.
“I just can’t say enough about these two seniors,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “They have added so much to our program and have been great leaders. They truly exemplify what it means to be a student-athlete here at Valparaiso.”
Diebler posted six points and two assists in his home finale, including a triple which jump-started a key second-half run for Valpo. Igbavboa tallied 12 points and also added team-high totals of nine rebounds and six assists.
Both teams shot just 33.3% from the floor in the first half as they both struggled offensively in the opening 20 minutes. Valpo held an early 7-5 lead, but went scoreless for nearly six minutes, enabling the Penguins to go on a 10-0 run and take a 15-7 advantage with 9:48 to play. Youngstown State got the lead to as many as nine points at 21-12 with 5:44 remaining in the half, but the Crusaders scored eight of the half’s last 11 points, as Igbavboa capped the spurt with a late layup to make it 24-20 Penguins at the break.
Youngstown State pushed the lead back out to as many as eight points early in the second half, but back-to-back baskets by Cameron Witt (Launceston, Tasmania, Australia/Launceston) kept the Crusaders within striking distance. The Penguins led 33-27 with 16:29 to play before the Crusaders went on a quick 8-0 spurt to take the lead for good.
Diebler started the run with a 3-pointer off a feed from Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School). After the media timeout, freshman Erik Buggs (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell) came up with a steal in the backcourt and, sitting on the ground with the ball, found Little for an old-fashioned 3-point play to tie the game at 33.
Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) came up with a steal on the next defensive trip, and Igbavboa converted on the offensive end with a third-chance layup to put the Crusaders in front, 35-33, with 14:59 to play. The Penguins tied the game on their next trip, but Buggs responded, canning a triple and then coming up with another steal in the backcourt.
The Crusaders continued to maintain a small lead for the next few minutes, with Buggs finding Little for a 3-pointer with 7:43 to play to make it 48-44 Valpo. Four minutes later, it was a 50-48 Crusader edge before Valpo put together one final run to ice the game.
The run started with a jumper from the left side of the lane by Witt off a feed from Buggs with 3:14 to play. On the next defensive possession, it was Buggs with his third steal of the game taking the ball the length of the court for a layup. Rogers then came up with his team-best fourth steal of the game and took the ball coast-to-coast for a fast-break dunk to push the lead to six points.
Vytas Sulskis split two free throws for the Penguins with two minutes remaining to make it 56-49. But off the make on the second free throw, Buggs took the inbounds pass and ran past everybody for another layup to push the lead to nine and effectively clinch the game for the Crusaders. Valpo made seven free throws in the final 73 seconds to hold the Penguins at bay, as YSU never got closer than five points.
“Erik really was the key to tonight’s game,” said Drew. “I give him a lot of credit, as he’s seen less playing time recently, but he has kept working hard, waiting for his chance to make an impact. His energy, especially on the defensive end coming up with three steals, really set the tone for the entire second half.”
Little led a balanced Crusader attack with 13 points. Rogers and Witt joined Igbavboa with 12 points apiece, the former also adding eight rebounds to go with his team-best four steals. Buggs scored 10 points of his own in 20 minutes off the bench while also handing out three assists.
Youngstown State (11-18, 7-11 Horizon) was led by 13 points from Sirlester Martin. DeAndre Mays chipped in 11 points and team-best totals of seven rebounds and four assists.