Valparaiso allowed Wright State to hit just two field goals in the first 18 minutes of the second half, erasing a seven-point halftime deficit and claiming a double-digit advantage en route to a 71-60 victory over the Raiders Friday evening at the Nutter Center in Dayton, Ohio. With the win, the Crusaders remain atop the Horizon League standings.
The Crusaders trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half as Wright State shot 68% (17-of-25) in the opening 20 minutes. But Valpo earned its fifth comeback victory of the year when trailing by double figures with a superb defensive effort in the second stanza, giving up just a 3-pointer and a putback basket in the first 18 minutes. In all in the second half, Valpo held WSU to 18.2% (4-of-22) shooting, including just a 1-of-11 (9.1%) clip from behind the arc. The Crusaders held the Raiders without a field goal for separate stretches of 10:58 and 6:32 over the course of the game as well.
“Our defense was really the key to the victory tonight,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “We let Wright State shoot 68% in the first half and came in at halftime and challenged Howard to get Duggins and challenge Erik to get Evans. Our defense really did a much better job in the second half, and I was proud of the way our team came back.”
Meanwhile offensively, redshirt junior Brandon Wood (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo [Highland C.C./Southern Illinois]) put together an impressive spurt over the two halves to help rally the Crusaders on that end of the court. Over the course of 12+ minutes spanning the two halves, Wood poured in 24 points on 10-of-11 shooting from the floor, taking Valpo from down 29-17 with 6:30 to go in the first half to up 49-43 with 14:19 to play in the game.
“Brandon really helped us get the job done offensively during our comeback,” said Drew. “He works very hard on his shot, coming in whenever he gets a chance in between classes or before and after practice, and we know he's capable of putting together spurts like tonight, because we see the way he can shoot in practice.”
Valpo got off to a quick start to the ballgame, going ahead 8-2 just three minutes into the game on five straight points by fifth-year senior Cory Johnson (Duluth, Minn./Duluth East [Iowa State]) and a 3-pointer by sophomore Ryan Broekhoff (Frankston, Victoria, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport). But the Raiders went on a 12-0 run over the next six minutes to claim a 14-8 lead, an advantage they would not relinquish the remainder of the half.
The Crusaders put together a solid offensive first half, shooting at a 45.2% (14-of-31) clip from the field, but Wright State put up even better numbers, thanks to stellar performances in the opening half from N'Gai Evans (8-of-9, 16 pts) and Vaughn Duggins (5-of-6, 4-of-4 3PT, 14 pts). But Valpo, trailing 36-22 with 4:30 to go in the first 20 minutes, posted an 11-4 run to head into the locker room trailing by just seven points. Sophomore Kevin Van Wijk (Hoofddorp, Netherlands/Katholieke Scholengemeenschap Hoofddorp) had a putback basket and freshman Jay Harris (Aurora, Ill./Oswego East) a fast-break layup to start the run, while Wood scored the last seven points of the half, the final two coming on an inbounds lob from Erik Buggs (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell) with the shot clock running out.
“I thought the inbounds play to end the half was a key play,” said Drew. “Erik made a nice pass and Brandon did a good job going up and putting it in to get us within seven at the half. We were pleased to be in the game because we felt we didn't play our best in the first half.”
Out of the halftime break, Valpo kept the foot on the gas pedal, outscoring the Raiders 18-3 over the first 7:31 of the second half. The Crusaders scored on their first six possessions, with three early baskets by Wood and a driving layup by Buggs with the shot clock running down getting the half started. A 3-pointer by Wood at the 16:37 mark gave Valpo the lead for good, and later on the junior converted a 3-point play on a baseline jumper while being fouled to push the lead to six points with 14:19 to play.
A couple minutes later, Matt Kenney (Mooresville, Ind./Mooresville) found Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) inside the zone defense for a layup, and then Kenney took the ball to the basket himself on the next trip for a layup to make it a seven-point game. Johnson then hit a baseline jumper of his own on a scramble off a loose ball with the shot clock running down to push the advantage to 55-46 with 10:16 remaining.
Wright State had one mini-spurt left in it, scoring the next four points, including a put-back basket by Cooper Land to cut the Crusader edge to 55-50 with 8:15 left. But Valpo responded emphatically, scoring the next six points, including four from Van Wijk, to go up 61-50 with 6:46 to go, and the Raiders would get no closer than nine points the rest of the way.
Wood ended the night with 26 points, while Johnson joined him in double figures with 13 points. Johnson also pulled down a game-high six rebounds, while Buggs dished out five assists and committed just one turnover. The Crusaders ended the night shooting 52.7% (29-of-55) from the floor and connected on 42.9% (6-of-14) from behind the 3-point line. All nine Valpo players who played saw at least 10 minutes of action, scored and pulled down at least one rebound.
Wright State (11-7, 4-2 Horizon) got 19 points apiece to lead the way from Duggins and Evans, but the duo combined for just eight second-half points. Land added 14 points as well in the losing effort.
Valparaiso (13-5, 5-1 Horizon) puts its share of first place on the line Sunday at Detroit, taking on the Titans at noon CST. All the action can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network and online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have links for live stats and live video.