Valparaiso battled back from an eight-point second half deficit and took a five-point lead, but Central Michigan scored the game’s final eight points to defeat the Crusaders 86-80 on Tuesday afternoon in front of 4,478 fans at a sold out Rose Arena in Mount Pleasant, Mich.
“I was proud of our effort to compete today,” head coach Keith Freeman said. “Their penetration hurt us and we were in a constant battle defensively all night.”
The Chippewas were hot from the floor early, making 7-of-11 to start the game while creating five steals in the first five minutes to take a 15-8 lead. After Valpo cut the lead to three, Central Michigan extended it to 27-18 with 10:37 to play in the first half on a lay-in by Britni Houghton.
Valpo battled back, cutting the deficit to three, 29-26 following Lauren Kenney’s (Mooresville, Ind./Mooresville H.S.) three-point play in the lane. A five minute drought followed, though, for the Brown and Gold, allowing the hosts to take the lead back to nine, 36-27 before the Crusaders went on a 10-3 run late in the half to close within two. The Crusaders then went into the locker room trailing 42-39.
Kenney scored on the first possession of the second half to bring Valpo within one before a 10-3 Central Michigan run pushed the lead back to eight. Again the Crusaders fought back, and Aimee Litka’s (South Bend, Ind./Saint Joseph’s H.S.) three-pointer with 11:26 to play gave Valpo its first lead, 59-58, with 11:26 to play.
The lead fluctuated back and forth before another triple by Litka gave Valpo a five-point lead, 76-71, with 5:36 to play. A lay-in by Angel Chan and another by Houghton tied the contest at 78 at the 3:23 mark before Kenney gave the Crusaders their final lead of the contest, 80-78 with 3:04 to play.
Brandi Baker’s triple with 2:36 to go put the Chippewas on top for good and another three by Chan increased the lead to four as Valpo was unable to score down the stretch.
Agnieszka Kulaga (Tarnow, Poland/I Liceum Ogolnoksztalcace H.S.) led Valpo with 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the floor while Kenney added 22 points, including a 10-of-13 night from the field. Kenney also had seven rebounds.
“Lauren really did a nice job inside posting up,” added Freeman.
Litka finished with 17 points, including 14 in the second half, while dishing out seven assists. Whitney Farris (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo H.S.) grabbed nine rebounds. Valpo outrebounded the Chippewas 36-27 on the night.
Valpo shot 54.5% from the floor on the afternoon, including 59.3% in the final 20 minutes, but Central Michigan shot 52.5% themselves. The Crusaders also committed 19 turnovers compared with just 11 for the Chippewas.
“We did some good things on the offensive end,” added Freeman. “We had a good inside-outside scoring attack and executed better the second half.”
Central Michigan (3-1) had five players in double figures, led by Baker’s 18 points and five assists. Houghton added 17 points while Chan had 16 including four three-pointers. Kaihla Szunko had 15 points and 14 rebounds for the Chippewas while Shonda Long chipped in 12 points off of the bench.
Valparaiso (1-1) will return to the court on Friday evening as the Crusaders travel to Fort Collins, Colo. for the Coors Rocky Mountain Invitational. Valpo will take on the host Rams of Colorado State in the opening round beginning at 8 p.m. CST with all the action carried live online at www.sportsjuice.com.
Game Notes: The game was sold out with area school children as part of “Recess at Rose” … Farris was one rebound off of her career high … Valpo outrebounded an opponent for the second straight game … Litka scored in double figures for the 29th time in the last 32 games … Central Michigan leads the all-time series 3-2.