Crusader guards Brandon McPherson (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) and Brandon Wood (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo [Highland C.C./Southern Illinois]) got Valparaiso off to a hot start Thursday evening and then combined to bring the Crusaders back from behind in the second half as Valpo defeated Youngstown State, 70-66, in Horizon League action at the ARC.
McPherson set a new career high with nine makes from the floor, shooting 9-of-16 from the floor and 4-of-6 effort from behind the arc to score a game-high 22 points Thursday. The senior also came up with three steals while not committing a turnover in 32 minutes of action and is now just six points shy of the 1,000 point milestone for his career.
Meanwhile, Wood produced another solid outing in a season full of stellar performances. The redshirt sophomore scored 13 points in the first half en route to 20 for the game, his ninth time this year scoring at least 20 points. He also tied for team-high honors with six rebounds and matched his career best with six assists.
Wood handed out four of his assists in the opening 6:40 of the ballgame while also scoring seven points during that stretch as the Crusaders jumped out to a quick 23-11 advantage. McPherson hit a pair of triples during the game-opening spurt, while Cory Johnson (Duluth, Minn./Duluth East [Iowa State]) added five points during the run. YSU scored the next seven points however, to cut the lead down to five points at 23-18.
Valpo pushed the lead back into double figures, but the Penguins answered with five straight points to move to within 33-27 with 4:51 to go in the opening half. The Crusaders responded immediately with six straight points though, as McPherson and Johnson hit layups in halfcourt sets and Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) got out on the fast break for a layup of his own. Valpo maintained the double-digit lead into halftime, holding a 41-29 advantage after the first 20 minutes.
“The first half, we were playing very well,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “[McPherson and Wood] both did a good job running the offense and hitting shots, we moved very well as a team and had great composure.”
But the Crusaders started the second half ice-cold from the floor, hitting just 1-of-13 shots from the floor over the first eight minutes of the second stanza as Youngstown State sliced its deficit to just 47-45 with 12 minutes to play. A layup out of a timeout by Wood briefly slowed the Penguins’ momentum, but YSU would gain its first lead of the game three minutes later on a triple by Vytas Sulskis.
Another 3-pointer, this time by Vance Cooksey, gave Youngstown State a 57-54 lead with 7:55 remaining, but the pair of Brandons answered immediately. McPherson found Wood in the corner for a triple of his own just 17 seconds later to tie things up, and on Valpo’s next possession, Ryan Broekhoff (Frankston, Victoria, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport) grabbed an offensive rebound and hit a wide-open McPherson at the top of the key for a trifecta of his own to give the Crusaders the lead for good.
The advantage was still just two points with 4:15 to play before Wood hit Johnson for a reverse layup to make it 62-58. After the Crusaders drew an offensive foul, Wood came down and registered his final assist of the night, hitting McPherson in the corner for his fourth 3-pointer of the evening to extend the lead to seven points. Youngstown State would get no closer than four points the rest of the way.
“You have to credit Youngstown a great deal in the second half,” said Drew. “They slowed us up by switching defenses, and we were tentative with the ball. Once we got in sync, however, we started moving better, cutting harder and getting good looks. It’s a credit to our guys that they continued to play with tenacity when Youngstown took the lead. We didn’t hang our heads and came out of tonight with a good team win.”
Johnson joined McPherson and Wood in double figures with ten points, his 15th outing reaching double figures this season. Johnson also matched Wood and Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) for team-high honors with six rebounds.
DeAndre Mays paced Youngstown State (7-9, 2-5 Horizon) with 21 points, while Sulskis scored 11 points off the bench for the Penguins. Sirlester Martin tallied a double-double with ten points and a game-high ten rebounds.
Valparaiso (7-11, 2-4) returns to action on Saturday afternoon, hosting the HLN Game of the Week against Cleveland State at 1 p.m. As always, the game can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network (WEFM, 95.9 FM, Michigan City; WAKE, 1500 AM, Valparaiso) and can be seen on the Horizon League Network. Valpo’s athletic website, www.valpoathletics.com, will have links for live audio, video and statistics.