Fifth-year senior guard Brandon McPherson (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) scored 14 straight points to start a 21-0 Valparaiso run in the second half, turning a nine-point deficit into a 12-point lead as the Crusaders went on to a 78-56 victory at the Athletics-Recreation Center Thursday evening over IU-South Bend. McPherson ended the night with a career-high 25 points.
“That first half was challenging, but I am pleased with the way we played in the second half,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “We got much better effort and better results defensively, and we stepped up and dominated the boards, especially on the defensive end. I thought Erik really set a good tone for us in the second half with his defensive play.”
The Titans of IUSB started the second half on a 10-4 spurt to take a nine-point edge at 43-34 with 15:25 remaining before McPherson and the Crusader defense started to take over. The senior knocked down trifectas on three straight Crusader possessions, all pull-up jumpers off the dribble, to tie things up at 43. Meanwhile, Valpo forced turnovers on five straight IUSB possessions to help keep the Titans off the scoreboard during the stretch.
McPherson came out for a breather with 13 minutes left to play, but picked up right where he left off when he was re-inserted into the lineup 74 seconds later, drawing a foul and hitting two free throws before knocking down another triple the next time down the floor off a feed from Ryan Broekhoff (Frankston, Victoria, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport) to make it 48-43 Valpo. The run continued on a pair of free throws by Brandon Wood (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo [Highland C.C./Southern Illinois]) and a tip-in by Cory Johnson (Duluth, Minn./Duluth East [Iowa State]) before McPherson added another fast break 3-pointer to cap the 21-0 segment.
“Brandon kind of willed us to the lead there with his 14 straight points,” said Drew. “I was happy to see that we didn’t let [IUSB] back into the game after that, that we continued to grow the lead going forward.”
The Titans would start to trade baskets with Valpo and were still within nine points at 59-50 with 7:19 to play before one more run cemented the game in the Crusaders’ favor. Johnson knocked down a pair of free throws and then came up with a monster tip dunk two possessions later to extend the lead to 13. After an IUSB miss, Erik Buggs (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell) found Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) for a fast-break triple to make it 66-50. A Wood basket and single freebies from Johnson and Buggs closed out the 11-0 Valpo run over a four-minute span.
The Crusaders held the lead for the first 11 minutes of the ballgame, extending it to as much as six points at 16-10, but an 11-2 run gave IUSB a lead it would not relinquish for the rest of the first half. The Titans had the lead up to eight points with 2:03 remaining before the break before Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) came up with a basket and Tommy Kurth (Osceola, Ind./Penn) hit a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 33-30 at halftime.
McPherson totaled just nine official field goal attempts en route to his 25-point performance, going 7-of-9 from the floor, including 5-of-6 from behind the 3-point line, and 6-of-8 from the free throw line. Johnson posted his first double-double as a Crusader, hitting 6-of-9 shot attempts on his way to 16 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. Wood and Little each reached double figures as well, scoring 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Demon Eubank led IU-South Bend, which was playing the game as an exhibition contest, with 14 points off the bench and knocked down all three of his 3-point attempts. Terry Hill handed out a game-best four assists, while Quinn Brooks and Dave Clore each came up with three steals as the Titans totaled 11 thefts.
Valparaiso (1-2) returns to action on Sunday, traveling to East Lansing, Mich. to take on 2009 national runners-up #2/2 Michigan State. The game will be broadcast live nationwide on the Big Ten Network, while live audio can be heard on the Valpo Sports Radio Network (WEFM [95.9 FM, Michigan City] and WAKE [1500 AM, Valparaiso]), with a student broadcast also available through WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso. Links for the VSRN live audio, as well as live stats, will be available at www.valpoathletics.com.