Four Valparaiso starters scored in double figures and the Crusaders never looked back after opening the game on a 14-0 run, eventually downing IU Northwest 111-64 Friday evening in the season opener at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
Leading the way was redshirt junior Brandon Wood (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo [Highland C.C./Southern Illinois]), who scored 20 points in just 20 minutes of action Friday. Wood also tied for team-high honors with six assists, matching his career-best effort in the category. Sophomore Ryan Broekhoff (Frankston, Victoria, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport) hit 7-of-11 from the floor for 18 points in just 21 minutes, while also chipping in six rebounds and tying his career high with three blocked shots.
Senior Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) posted 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting, converting four of his six field goals on offensive rebounds. Little tied for game-high honors with eight total rebounds, six of which came on the offensive end. Fifth-year senior Cory Johnson (Duluth, Minn./Duluth East [Iowa State]) also scored 17 points, connecting on 8-of-9 from the field, despite playing just 14 minutes.
“I thought it was a great display of unselfish basketball from our team tonight,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “We had three guys with six assists each and ended up with 29 assists on 43 baskets. We were doing a good job looking for the open man and made some beautiful passes to get ourselves good shots.”
The Crusaders wasted no time in asserting their dominance Friday, opening the game with a 14-0 spurt over the first 3:37. Johnson scored Valpo’s first six points in the first 77 seconds, followed by a Little free throw. Little then found Broekhoff on the fast break for a layup to push the lead to 9-0. After a pair of freebies following an offensive board by Broekhoff, redshirt sophomore Erik Buggs (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell) hit Wood for a 3-pointer on a break to make the lead 14-0.
“I thought we did a good job coming out and setting the tempo at the start of the game,” said Drew. “The first group really played well to get out to that 14-0 lead, and I thought our defense was especially solid during that opening run.”
The assist by Buggs was one of six he had on the evening, the second-best effort of his career in the category. Also joining Buggs and Wood with six assists apiece was freshman guard Jay Harris (Aurora, Ill./Oswego East), who in his collegiate debut handed out six assists while also scoring nine points in a team-high 25 minutes of action.
“Jay and Erik both did a good job handling pressure tonight,” said Drew. “IU Northwest was double-teaming a lot and also pressing a bit, and they both handled the basketball well.”
IU Northwest, an NAIA team which was playing Friday night’s contest as an exhibition game, got on the board 4:29 into the game and briefly cut the lead to 10 points 15 seconds later. But another run by the Crusaders, this one a 15-4 spurt over the next 4:30, pushed the advantage out to 29-8 with 10:33 to play in the opening half. Sophomore Kevin Van Wijk (Hoofddorp, Netherlands/Katholieke Scholengemeenschap Hoofddorp), making his debut for the Crusaders Friday, scored his first collegiate basket during the run, while Brokehoff, Wood and Harris all connected on triples as well.
The lead grew to as many as 30 points during the first half, with Harris finding fellow rookie Hrvoje Vucic (Split, Croatia/Faust Vrancic) for a layup as the clock wound down to zero to make it a 59-30 halftime lead. The advantage grew steadily throughout the second half and an 18-2 run midway through the half was capped by a short jumper in the paint by Johnson to push the Crusaders over the century mark.
The Crusader bench contributed 39 points Friday, led by nine apiece from Harris and senior Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian). Vucic scored eight points and grabbed five rebounds in just 11 minutes of playing time, while sophomore Matt Kenney (Mooresville, Ind./Mooresville) added eight points and six rebounds off the bench as well.
IU Northwest was led by 21 points from Keith Dean, while Carl Hampton added 12 points for the RedHawks. Valpo out-scored IUN in the paint by a 70-26 margin and forced the RedHawks into 20 turnovers, converting them into 28 points. The Crusaders also tallied 32 second-chance points and 29 fast break points while surpassing 100 points for the first time since a 105-73 win over Longwood on Jan. 7, 2006.
“We really have to improve our rebounding,” said Drew. “We gave up 20 offensive rebounds tonight, which is a major concern for us heading into Kansas. But I thought our shooting, our defense and the way we shared the ball were all very superb tonight.”
Valparaiso (1-0) heads to Lawrence, Kan. for a formidable test on Monday, as the Crusaders face off against #7/7 Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m., and all the action can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network (WAKE, 1500 AM, Valparaiso; WEFM, 95.9 FM, Michigan City; WJOB, 1230 AM, Hammond) and online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have a link for live stats. The game can also be seen live throughout the state of Kansas on Jayhawk TV and nationwide as part of the ESPN Full Court package.