Valparaiso held Milwaukee without a field goal for the game’s first 13:46 Friday evening at the Athletics-Recreation Center and rode the advantage all the way to the final buzzer, earning a 60-43 victory. With the win, the Crusaders remain alone atop the Horizon League standings at 7-1 in league action.
The Crusaders earned the victory Friday despite being without the services of their leading scorer and reigning Horizon League Player of the Week Brandon Wood (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo [Highland C.C./Southern Illinois]) due to injury. In addition, third-leading scorer Ryan Broekhoff (Frankston, Victoria, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport) played just three early minutes before having to come out due to injury as well.
But in the absence of two of their top three scorers, the rest of the Crusader squad stepped up. Senior Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) led the way off the bench with a season-best 14 points, 10 of which came in the game’s first 8:19, on 7-of-10 shooting. The senior also matched his season high with six rebounds Friday. Fellow senior Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) scored 12 points and grabbed a game-high seven rebounds as well.
Fifth-year senior Cory Johnson (Duluth, Minn./Duluth East [Iowa State]) went 5-of-7 from the floor for 11 points while also grabbing five rebounds, while sophomore Matt Kenney (Mooresville, Ind./Mooresville) scored 11 points, pulled down six boards and handed out five assists in his second start of the season. Off the bench as well, freshman Jay Harris (Aurora, Ill./Oswego East) chipped in eight points and dished out five assists while committing just one turnover.
The Crusaders wasted no time asserting themselves in their return to the ARC to open the three-game homestand, jumping out to a 24-6 lead while holding Milwaukee to 0-of-12 shooting from the floor before Jerard Ajami finally broke the Panthers’ slump with a basket at the 6:14 mark. Valpo also forced nine Milwaukee turnovers during the first 13:46 of the ballgame en route to the large early advantage.
“The whole key to the game today was that opening stretch,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “I thought Erik and Howard really set a wonderful tone with their defensive effort and intensity right off the bat, and worked very well with Matt to lock down the perimeter defense.”
While the defense was shutting down the Panthers, Rogers got the offense going with his 10 early points, the last layup of which gave Valpo a 17-4 edge just 8:19 into the game. The ball movement was key early on as well, as the Crusaders registered assists on 10 of their first 11 baskets and 12 of 15 in all over the first 20 minutes, led by four first-half helpers from Kenney.
A layup by Johnson with 3:57 to go in the first half gave Valpo its largest lead of the first 20 minutes at 28-9, and the Crusaders eventually carried a 33-16 advantage into the halftime break. Valpo kept the Panthers at arm’s length throughout the second half, giving up just 27 points on 9-of-27 (33.3%) shooting over the final 20 minutes and never letting Milwaukee get closer than 14 points as the Crusaders cruised to the win.
Valpo shot 55.6% (15-of-27) from the floor in the first half and ended the night connecting at a 46.4% (26-of-56) clip. The Crusaders out-rebounded the Panthers 38-32, led by Little’s 7 rebounds, and held massive advantages in points in the paint (40-14), points off turnovers (23-8), fast-break points (12-0) and bench points (26-9). Valpo also got two points and three rebounds in 14 minutes from sophomore Cameron Witt (Launceston, Tasmania, Australia/Launceston), who had played just three minutes on the season prior to Friday.
“We made some beautiful interior passes tonight that led to some easy layups,” said Drew. “We also did a much better job in converting our fast-break opportunities.”
Milwaukee (9-11, 4-5 Horizon) received a game-high 16 points from Tony Meier, but no other Panther finished the night in double figures. Anthony Hill and Ja’Rob McCallum each added eight points, with the former pulling down seven rebounds as well. Kaylon Williams tied for game-high honors with five assists.
Valparaiso (15-5, 7-1 Horizon) defends first place again on Sunday when Green Bay comes to the ARC. Tipoff has been moved to noon, and 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 HLN video and live stats.