VALPARAISO | Blowing a double-digit, second-half lead against Detroit was painful Saturday, but it appears the Valparaiso men’s basketball team learned from the debacle.
The Crusaders watched as Loyola erased a 12-point, halftime deficit before rallying late in the second half and holding off the Ramblers 85-76 on Tuesday night at the Gentile Center.
With the victory, Valparaiso can clinch first place in the Horizon League and the right to host the conference tournament with a win over Youngstown State next Tuesday at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
“We were always confident, but we knew that they’d make a run,” Valparaiso senior Ryan Broekhoff said. “The game did get away from us, but we learned from our mistakes, and we didn’t let it happen again.”
Valparaiso jumped out to a 17-point, first-half lead and looked to be in firm control before the Ramblers rattled off a 19-4 scoring run out of the locker room to tie the game at 46-46 with 11:21 remaining. Christian Thomas scored seven points during the run and had all 15 of his points in the second half as Loyola had the Crusaders sweating out a second-consecutive blown victory.
The Crusaders (21-7, 11-3) found their shooting touch midway through the second half as Matt Kenney connected on back-to-back 3-pointers, and Will Bogan later added consecutive mid-range jumpers to push the lead back to double digits. Bogan finished with a season-high 16 points.
“You don’t see me taking a lot of shots inside the arc,” Bogan said. “I was just taking what the defense was giving me.”
Kenney finished with 14 points and five assists, and Ryan Broekhoff added 14 points and six rebounds. The two seniors finished their four-year careers undefeated at the Gentile Center.
“The first half we came out hot, started hitting shots,” Kenney said. “They came back, and we were stagnant when we weren’t hitting shots. We made them guard our offense more and really worked together as a team.”
The Ramblers (14-13, 4-10) were short-handed, playing without starters Ben Averkamp (15.3 ppg) and Cully Payne (7.9 ppg, 4.3 apg). Munster native Joe Crisman played in his second game after returning from a broken finger and scored six points.
“Coach (Porter Moser) tells me every day that my presence sparks the guys,” Crisman said. “I just try to bring energy and get the guys going every day.”