Newcomers Cory Johnson (Duluth, Minn./Duluth East [Iowa State]) and Brandon Wood (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo [Highland C.C./Southern Illinois]) each surpassed 20 points Friday evening in Valparaiso’s season opener, but it was not enough, as Ball State led start-to-finish in an 88-78 victory over the Crusaders in Muncie, Ind.
Wood knocked down nine shots from the field, including three triples, and was a perfect 4-for-4 from the foul line en route to his game-high 25 points. Johnson was very efficient with his field goal attempts, connecting on 9-for-14 from the floor for 21 points of his own.
“I thought you definitely saw our youth at times tonight,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “I was really pleased with our offense and thought Cory did a really good job battling inside. The turning point, though, was allowing Ball State to shoot 57%. Our defense has to get better, especially on the interior.”
Ball State jumped out to a very quick start, going ahead 14-3 just 4:46 into the contest and getting eight early points from Brawley Chisholm. The Cardinals extended their lead to as many as 14 points at 21-7 8:05 into the game, at which point all seven of Valpo’s points were courtesy of Johnson.
Ryan Broekhoff (Frankston, Victoria, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport) then connected on a 3-pointer, however, to start the Crusaders’ crawl back into the game. Valpo would out-score Ball State in the final 11:55 of the first half by a 31-21 margin, thanks in large part to 17 points from Wood, who went 6-for-8 from the field during that stretch. The Crusaders closed the half with a big 7-2 spurt on a triple by Wood and two layups by Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) to cut the deficit to 42-38 at the break.
Ball State scored the first four points of the second half, but Valpo immediately responded with a pair of layups from Johnson which sandwiched a 3-pointer by Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) to cut the lead down to 46-45 with 16:39 to play. The deficit remained at two possessions or less for the better part of the next eight minutes, but Valpo could never forge a tie or gain the lead.
Still trailing just 62-57 with under nine minutes to play, the Crusaders gave up a 11-2 run over the next four minutes to Ball State, as the Cardinals pulled out to a 14-point advantage. Valpo scored the next five points to stop the BSU run and get the deficit back to single digits, but the Crusaders would get no closer than eight points the remainder of the game.
Brandon McPherson (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) and Little joined Wood and Johnson in double figures in the scoring column, registering 11 and ten points, respectively. McPherson also handed out a game-high six assists, while freshman Tommy Kurth (Osceola, Ind./Penn) dished out five helpers as Valpo owned 18 assists and just nine turnovers on the evening. Johnson tied for game-high honors with nine rebounds.
Ball State (1-0) placed six players in double figures in scoring and shot at a 57.8% clip from the field on the evening. Jarrod Jones led the Cardinals with 19 points, while Malik Perry added 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting. Ball State also held a 39-29 advantage in the rebounding column over the Crusaders.
Valparaiso (0-1) returns to action Sunday when the Crusaders travel to take on defending national champion #6/4 North Carolina. The game can be seen live at 3 p.m. CST on Fox Sports South (DirecTV channel 646) and will be carried live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network (WEFM [95.9 FM, Michigan City] and WAKE [1500 AM, Valparaiso]). Live audio can also be found online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have a link for live stats.