Valparaiso ran out to a 19-point halftime lead over Detroit Saturday afternoon in Horizon League action at the ARC, and after the Titans took over the lead in the second half, the Crusaders rallied for a 74-70 victory to move into a tie with Detroit in the league standings.
The Crusaders used a stellar defensive effort in the first half to earn the large lead at the break, holding the Titans to just 7-of-36 (19.4%) shooting from the floor in the opening 20 minutes. Detroit did grab 15 offensive rebounds in the first half, but Valpo allowed just eight second-chance points off those caroms.
Valpo slowly extended its lead in the opening half, opening up a 13-point advantage midway through the stanza. Detroit cut the lead down to seven points at 26-19 with 7:08 to play in the half, but a layup by Matt Kenney (Mooresville, Ind./Mooresville) jump-started a 17-5 Crusader spurt to close the half. Tommy Kurth (Osceola, Ind./Penn) led the way during the run with five points, which featured a posterizing dunk on the fast break by Brandon Wood (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo [Highland C.C./Southern Illinois]) and an alley-oop dunk on the break a minute later from Wood to Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian), as the Crusaders went into halftime up 43-24.
“That first half might be the finest half of basketball we’ve played all year,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “Our team was tenacious and aggressive, and showed a lot of intensity on both ends of the floor. We held them to just 24 points, which is a great defensive effort, and then offensively we ran the floor well and got some easy looks.”
But Detroit came storming out of the locker room, going on a monster 26-4 run over the opening 8:40 of the second half to reclaim the lead on a 3-pointer by Xavier Keeling with 11:20 to play. The Titans extended their lead to four points at 54-50 with ten minutes to play, but a quick 8-0 run by the Crusaders gave them the lead back for good.
Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) got the spurt started with an old-fashioned 3-point play, and on the Crusaders’ next trip, Cory Johnson (Duluth, Minn./Duluth East [Iowa State]) found Rogers for a 3-pointer to put Valpo back on top. Johnson came up with a steal on the defensive side of the ball, and Wood took advantage with a driving layup on the other end to push the Crusader edge back to 58-54 with 8:40 remaining.
“We knew that Detroit would come out of the locker room looking to make a run at us,” said Drew. “They did a good job switching defenses into that trapping zone and really made a nice run. I was very proud of the poise we had, staying focused, and we came back with that 8-0 run to give us the lead.”
While Valpo would never be able to push the lead above five points the rest of the way, the Crusaders also never fell into a tie, getting a number of big plays down the stretch. Up just one with under five minutes to play, Rogers converted an off-balance 3-point play in the paint to push the lead back to four.
Detroit got back to within one with 3:42 remaining, but Rogers found Cameron Witt (Launceston, Tasmania, Australia/Launceston) for a second-chance layup inside to push the lead back to three points. The Titans converted on a pair of free throws to cut it to one yet again, but again it was the junior Rogers who responded, connecting on yet another triple with 2:04 to play.
Chase Simon answered for the Titans with a triple of his own, and Detroit would eventually have the ball down one with under a minute remaining. Kenney came up with the biggest of his career-high four blocked shots on the defensive trip, however, rejecting Woody Payne’s jumper. McPherson corralled the rebound and hit a pair of free throws to make it 73-70, and Rogers took a charge on the defensive end to seemingly cement the game for Valpo.
The Crusaders committed a violation on the ensuing inbounds with 13 ticks on the clock, however, giving the ball back to Detroit for one final chance. But Ryan Broekhoff (Frankston, Victoria, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport) stole the inbounds pass and would hit a free throw for the game’s final margin.
Four of Valpo’s five starters finished the game in double figures, led by 18 points from Wood, who also came up with three steals. Rogers scored a season-high 13 points, while Johnson and McPherson each chipped in 12 points, the former also adding six rebounds and five assists. Broekhoff reached double figures in rebounding for the second straight game, ripping down 11 boards, while the Crusaders registered six blocked shots on the game.
“We had a lot of different heroes today,” said Drew. “Mike had one of his best games of this season, making quite a few momentum-changing plays, especially his 3-point play. [Wood] did a good job of hitting shots for us against Detroit’s zone in the second half, and [McPherson] finished the game well for us, knocking down those clutch free throws. When we needed plays, we found a way to make them. This is a great win for us, a huge win to protect the home court.”
Detroit (14-10, 7-6 Horizon) was led by 20 points from Simon, but the sophomore connected on just 6-of-17 from the floor. Keeling scored 17 points and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds, while Eli Holman added 13 points and seven boards.
Valparaiso (12-13, 7-6 Horizon) concludes its stretch of three home games in a five-day span Monday evening when the Crusaders host UIC at 7:05 p.m. The game can be seen throughout Chicagoland on Lakeshore Public Television. As always, the game can also be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network (WEFM, 95.9 FM, Michigan City; WAKE, 1500 AM, Valparaiso; WLPR, 89.1 FM, Lowell) 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.