It took extra time Saturday afternoon, but Valparaiso finished the job in overtime, getting a pair of huge baskets in the last two minutes of the extra session by senior Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) to help close out an 85-79 victory over Butler in front of a sellout crowd at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
The win over the Bulldogs came in the 100th meeting on the hardwood between the two institutions, and was Valpo’s first over Butler since December of 1993. The victory also broke a seven-game losing streak against the Bulldogs since the Crusaders joined the Horizon League prior to the 2007-2008 season.
“We absolutely loved the atmosphere today,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “The students and other fans brought a lot of energy, and our guys took that energy and ran with it. It was a big win for us, but it’s just the first game of the second half of league play. Now we have to worry about games two, three and four to try to stay at the top of the league and get one of the top two seeds.”
Sophomore Matt Kenney (Mooresville, Ind./Mooresville) got the Crusaders going in overtime, converting a driving layup one minute in and then finding sophomore Ryan Broekhoff (Frankston, Victoria, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport) for a triple to give Valpo a 72-67 lead with 3:28 to go in extra time. A pair of free throws by Butler’s Shawn Vanzant cut the advantage to three points, but on the next defensive trip, Broekhoff came up with a steal and a coast-to-coast layup to push the lead back to 74-69.
Chase Stigall knocked down a 3-pointer for the Bulldogs to move back within two points as the clock ticked under two minutes, setting the stage for Little’s heroics. The senior canned a pull-up 18-footer from the top of the lane as the shot clock was winding down to make it 76-72 with 1:32 to go. Then, following a Butler miss, Little found the ball in his hands again with the shot clock winding down and had to launch a 28-footer that rattled home, a 3-pointer that nearly brought the house down as the Crusaders extended the lead to seven points.
Valpo then put the game away from the free throw line, as freshman Jay Harris (Aurora, Ill./Oswego East), who hadn’t played in the second half and was forced into the game after junior Brandon Wood (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo [Highland C.C./Southern Illinois]) and sophomore Erik Buggs (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell) both fouled out, stepped up and hit all six of his free throws in the end game. Butler could get no closer than four points on a Shelvin Mack 3-pointer with 12 seconds to go, with Harris’ free throws eventually accounting for the final margin.
The second half featured big runs on both sides before settling down into a back-and-forth affair. Valpo scored the first five points out of the locker room to tie things up, but then Zack Hahn scored eight points during a nine-point Butler spurt that put the Bulldogs on top 40-31 with 15:50 to play. But back-to-back threes by senior Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) and Wood, followed by a steal and fast-break layup and then a 3-pointer by Kenney, accounted for an 11-0 Valpo answer which put the Crusaders ahead 42-40 with 14 minutes left, their first lead since the game’s early stages.
That set up a stretch in which 10 straight baskets both ways either accounted for ties or lead changes, as the two squads fought tooth-and-nail for control of the contest. Finally, it was Valpo which seized control, as a Broekhoff 3-pointer with under eight minutes to play pushed the lead to four points. On the next trip, sophomore Kevin Van Wijk (Hoofddorp, Netherlands/Katholieke Scholengemeenschap Hoofddorp) corralled a blocked shot and laid it in for a 59-53 edge with 6:30 to play.
A 3-pointer by Stigall was answered immediately by a step-back 3-pointer from the corner by Kenney, and nearly two minutes later another Broekhoff triple gave Valpo a 66-58 lead with 3:29 to go. But the Crusaders scored just one point the remainder of regulation, as Butler closed the second half on a 9-1 spurt. Vanzant knocked down a big 3-pointer for the Bulldogs with 2:17 to play, while Matt Howard converted on an old-fashioned 3-point play with 30 seconds remaining that eventually forced overtime.
Butler led for the majority of the opening 20 minutes, assuming the lead just over four minutes into the contest. 11 first-half points by fifth-year senior Cory Johnson (Duluth, Minn./Duluth East [Iowa State]) helped offset a Butler squad which connected on six first-half 3-pointers, with his final basket of the opening half sending the Crusaders into the locker room down 31-26.
It was a balanced Crusader offense Saturday, as a trio of players shared the scoring lead. Broekhoff connected for 16 points, including a 4-of-6 effort from behind the arc, and also added a team-high six rebounds. Johnson scored 16 points as well before fouling out early in the overtime session. Kenney came off the bench as the third Crusader with 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the floor.
“When the nine guys in our rotation are healthy, we feel we can compete with anybody,” said Drew. “Matt is really like a sixth starter for us, and today his defense and penetration really helped turn things around for us. Then Howard, with the two big shots in overtime, was just committed to this game and wanted to win and made it happen.”
Meanwhile, Wood, who missed both games last week due to injury, returned to the starting lineup with a 15-point effort on Saturday, including a 6-of-8 showing from the charity stripe. Valpo shot 51.9% (27-of-52) for the game, including 62.1% (18-of-29) in the final 25 minutes. The Crusaders also connected on 10 3-pointers, going 9-of-14 from behind the arc in the second half and overtime.
“We trusted Brandon when he said he could go after warming up today,” said Drew. “He really gave us an all-around game today. Not only did he score, but he got some big steals, played good defense, handled the ball well and was able to get to the free throw line.”
Butler (14-8, 6-4 Horizon) placed four players in double figures as well, led by 17 points apiece from Hahn and Howard. The latter also picked up a game-high 10 rebounds to finish with a double-double. Vanzant added 14 points, while Mack chipped in 10.
Valparaiso (16-6, 8-2 Horizon) will take on its counterpart atop the league standings next time out, as the Crusaders will hit the road to take on Cleveland State on Thursday evening. As always, the game 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.