Valparaiso rallied from a 12-point deficit to take the lead for
the first time early in the second half, but Wright
State responded with a 14-0 run to
take back the lead for good, as the Raiders went on to defeat the Crusaders,
68-56, in the first round of the Horizon League Championship Tuesday evening in Dayton, Ohio.
“You have to credit Wright State
tonight,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “They played their trademark
defense and were very physical and made scoring points difficult on us.”
Wright State wasted no time taking the early advantage, as Todd
Brown knocked down a jumper and a 3-pointer in its first three
possessions. A free throw by Will Graham
and a triple by Troy Tabler followed, and when Cory Cooperwood took advantage
of a second-chance layup 3:33 into the game, the Raiders already led 11-0.
Valpo got on the board just
over four and a half minutes in when Urule
Igbavboa (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan) connected on a free throw, but
the Crusaders would still trail by 11 at 17-6 with under nine minutes to play
in the first half. A 3-pointer by
Igbavboa sparked a 7-0 spurt, however, as De’Andre
Haskins (Long Beach, Calif./La Lumiere [Ind.] School) canned a triple and
Igbavboa added another free throw to cut the deficit to 17-13 with 5:57 to go
in the half.
The Raiders scored the next
five points to extend the lead back to nine points with less than four minutes
remaining in the opening stanza, and scored seven more points in the half’s
final four minutes. But Haskins
single-handedly kept Valpo in the game at the offensive end, knocking down two
3-pointers, a long jumper and a tip-in in the final four-minute segment of the
half. The freshman ended the first half
with 13 points to keep the Crusaders within 29-23 at the break.
“We were a little concerned
when Wright State got ahead by 11, but knew we had come back from bigger
deficits this year,” said Drew.
“De’Andre really did a great job in the first half as a spark off the
bench, coming in and hitting some big shots for us.”
Howard Little (Chicago,
Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) got Valpo to within four points with a
second-chance layup to open the second half, but three free throws put Wright
State ahead by seven with 18 minutes to play.
The Crusaders got another mini-run at that point, as Igbavboa found Jake Diebler (Upper
Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky) for a 3-pointer and then Michael Rogers (Kingston,
[N.Y.] Christian) for a jumper to cut the lead to two. After a Wright State
miss, Diebler came down and nailed another 3-pointer to give Valpo its first
lead at 33-32 with 16:23 to play.
But out of a timeout, the
Raiders went on an extended 14-0 run to take back the lead. Cooper Land led the way with five points
during the run, while Scott Grote scored four of his team-best 19 points during
the spurt. N’Gai Evans’ triple capped
the four and a half minute run, extending the Wright State edge to 46-33 with
11:47 to play.
Another mini-spurt brought
the Crusaders right back into the game, however. Little started it with a layup off a feed
from Cameron Witt (Launceston, Tasmania, Australia/Launceston), and after a
WSU turnover, Igbavboa sliced through the lane for a dunk from Diebler. Rogers and Igbavboa would each knock down a
pair of free throws as well, with the latter’s bringing Valpo within 46-41 with
That was as close as the
Crusaders would get, though, as the Raiders held off Valpo down the
stretch. Wright State
did most of its damage in the waning minutes at the free throw line, as Todd
Brown’s 3-pointer with 6:22 left was its last field goal of the game. The Raiders connected on 19-of-22 free throws
in the final eight minutes to keep the Crusaders at bay.
was just great in the last few minutes at the free throw line,” said Drew. “We just could not get back within 4-6
points, because they stepped up and knocked down two almost every time.”
Valpo was led by 14 points
apiece from Diebler, who connected on four triples, and Rogers, who scored all of his 14 points in
the final 20 minutes. Haskins added 13
points of his own, while Igbavboa scored nine points while also registering
five rebounds and five assists.
Grote paced all players with
his 19 points, going 11-of-13 at the free throw line as Wright State
(19-12) shot 80.6% (25-of-31) from the charity stripe as a team. Land connected on all six of his shot
attempts for 15 points, while Brown scored 16 of his own.
With the loss, the Crusaders
close their season at 9-22. The loss
also ends the careers of seniors Diebler and Igbavboa. Diebler closes his four-year career as
Valpo’s Division I record-holder for most consecutive starts (98) and is among
Valpo’s top-ten all-time in steals and top-20 in assists. Igbavboa finishes his four years as the
Crusaders’ 20th-leading scorer and fifth-leading rebounder
“I am so proud to have coached these two senior
leaders,” said Drew on Diebler and Igbavboa.
“You can see with their tears tonight how much playing basketball with
the rest of these guys has meant to them.
They just are great players on the court and even better leaders and
people off the court. It’s been my
privilege to get to be with these two men the last four years.”