In a battle for first place in the Horizon League standings Thursday night, every Crusader rally was answered by the home-standing Vikings, as Valparaiso fell 76-65 to Cleveland State in Cleveland, Ohio.
“I think you have to congratulate Cleveland State tonight,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “Both Cole and Montgomery were sensational for them. I thought the difference in the game was their team speed, they just took the game over with how fast they got out in transition."
Senior Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) led the Crusaders Thursday evening with 17 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the floor, while sophomore Ryan Broekhoff (Frankston, Victoria, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport) posted a double-double with 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting, including three 3-pointers, and a team-high 11 rebounds. The duo were the only Crusaders to reach double figures in the scoring column, as both senior Cory Johnson (Duluth, Minn./Duluth East [Iowa State]) and junior Brandon Wood (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo [Highland C.C./Southern Illinois]) were held to six points, only the second time in their two years both have scored under 10 points in the same game.
Cleveland State got out to a fast start Thursday, going ahead 10-2 just three minutes in thanks to a pair of jumpers by Norris Cole and two 3-pointers from Jeremy Montgomery. Valpo responded with seven straight points on a layup by Johnson, a 3-pointer by sophomore Matt Kenney (Mooresville, Ind./Mooresville) and a baseline jumper from Little, but the Vikings responded with five consecutive points of their own. The Crusaders would get no closer than three points much of the remainder of the first half, with a scoreless drought of 5:26 late in the stanza helping CSU post a seven-point spurt that gave the Vikings a 29-18 edge with under four minutes remaining.
But sophomore Erik Buggs (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell) knocked down just his second 3-pointer of the season, and junior Cameron Witt (Launceston, Tasmania, Australia/Launceston) connected on a pair of long jumpers to spark a 12-1 Valpo run. Broekhoff knocked down a triple during the spurt, while senior Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) closed the run with a layup with 26 seconds to play in the first half to tie the game at 30. CSU's Tim Kamczyc split a pair of free throws in the final seconds to give the Vikings a 31-30 halftime edge.
“I thought we made a good run at the end of the first half there,” said Drew. “It gave us a chance and got us back in the ballgame even though we didn't play very well in the first half, but then Cleveland State hit us right back to start the second half.”
The run the Crusaders posted to end the first half was answered in kind by Cleveland State to start the second stanza, as the Vikings put together a 12-2 run to go up by 11 just 3:38 into the second half. The teams traded points for the better part of the next four minutes, as CSU still led by nine with 12 minutes to play before the Crusaders recorded their first major run of the half. A pair of free throws by Broekhoff were followed by a 3-pointer from the Aussie, and nearly two minutes later, Johnson converted a fast-break layup for a seven-point spurt that brought the Crusaders within 49-47 with 9:43 remaining.
Again, a scoreless drought cost Valpo, this time a span of nearly three and a half minutes that allowed the Vikings to score seven straight points and push the lead back to nine points. Cleveland State had the lead at 10 points with under five minutes to play before the Crusaders came up with another surge to get back in the ballgame.
The run started with Johnson finding Broekhoff for a layup inside with 3:57 to play, and then on the next trip the sophomore spotted up for his third 3-pointer of the game to cut the lead to five points. A layup by Montgomery was answered immediately by a layup from Rogers, and Little followed with a steal on the defensive end and took it coast-to-coast for a layup that made it 63-60, a one-possession game with three minutes remaining.
But Valpo came up empty on its next four offensive trips, going 0-for-4 with a turnover, while CSU scored seven points in the same stretch to again take control. Little knocked down a 3-pointer with a minute to play to briefly cut the lead to seven, but that was as close as the Crusaders could get in the final minute of action.
“I thought we didn't execute as well as we had been offensively after getting it back to 63-60,” said Drew. “I think we lost some composure during that stretch and tried to force things.”
Kenney had another solid game for the Crusaders off the bench, going for six points, matching his career high with eight rebounds and setting a new season best with six assists. Valpo as a team handed out 20 assists and committed just five turnovers Thursday, but shot just 37.7% (26-of-69) from the floor, including just 28.6% (6-of-21) from behind the arc.
Montgomery paced Cleveland State (21-3, 10-2 Horizon) with a game-high 26 points, while Cole went for 25 points and 11 rebounds. Trevon Harmon pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds, as the Vikings held a 48-36 advantage on the glass. CSU took advantage of 40 trips to the charity stripe, hitting 26-of-40 (65%) from the foul line, while Valpo went just 7-of-11 (63.6%).
“There are definitely no easy teams in this league,” said Drew. “Every time out, you have to earn your victory, and we did not earn it tonight. Now we have another big game coming up Saturday at Youngstown State.”
Valparaiso (16-7, 8-3 Horizon) looks to get back on the winning track Saturday evening as the Crusaders travel to Youngstown State. Game time is set for 6:05 p.m. CST, and as always, 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 HLN live video, as well as live stats.