PORTAGE | The modest, OK, ugly, 16-14 halftime score described the offensive struggles for both Valparaiso and Portage in Friday's Duneland Athletic Conference opener.
"It was the grind-it-out kind of game we expected," Indians coach Rick Snodgrass said.
While Valpo showed signs of life in the third quarter, Portage still couldn't generate a pulse. The Vikings went on a 14-2 run and blew out the Times No. 9 Indians 46-25.
"It may sound cheesy, cliche, but if you don't have good people, they're not going to respond to a coach getting on their case to dive on a loose ball ... to play harder," Valpo coach Matt Thomas said. "They make a commitment, not excuses. I was locked in my basement, obsessed with having a good game plan, but you have to have good kids to execute it. It's them more than anything I did."
Brandon Nicholas, one of Thomas' halftime targets, fueled the charge in the third quarter with a steal, one of his four, and seven points.
"Coach was mostly upset with the six turnovers," Nicholas said. "He wanted to see how we would respond in the second half. We wanted to come out and make sure we jumped on them early. We started taking care of the ball. Execution was huge."
Conner TenHove's 13 points and eight rebounds topped Valpo (6-4), which had Justin Osburn notch nine of his 10 points in the second half. Nicholas finished with nine and was plus 10 on Thomas' defensive chart.
"I had some pretty unkind words for him at halftime. He responded the right way," Thomas said.
Jordan Collazo's 10 points led Portage (7-5), which made its only 3 in 15 tries in the last minute and shot 26 percent.
"Valpo has the tradition of being a hard-nosed defensive team," Nicholas said. "We stress defense every day of the week. We've been together for so long, we know where the ball's going to go at certain times, and we can anticipate. It's easier when you rep it all the time."
The 25 points is Portage's lowest total since it scored 17 against Valpo in a slowdown game in the 2002 sectional.
"I wasn't disappointed in the effort. I was disappointed in the execution, the fact that we couldn't score on a consistent basis," Snodgrass said. "We had open shots. We just didn't make them. People underestimate Valpo. They've had that system all these years. They've got talent. They get after you on defense. We got our butt beat in all phases of the game."
Valpo has won 13 in a row in the series going back to Dec. 7, 2007.