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Loyola beats Horizon favorite Valpo in league opener

Loyola's Ben Averkamp beats Valparaiso's KevVan Wijk basket first half Valparaiso University Wednesday evening. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media

Loyola's Ben Averkamp beats Valparaiso's Kevin Van Wijk to the basket in the first half at Valparaiso University Wednesday evening. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media

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VALPARAISO, Ind. — So much for Loyola’s 10-game road losing streak in regular-season Horizon League games.

Not that the Ramblers pay attention to such things. All they do is continue to show how dramatically improved they are this season, knocking off preseason favorite Valparaiso 63-54 on Wednesday night in the conference opener for both teams.

“It’s awesome,” Loyola coach Porter Moser said. “We looked at it right out of the gate, wow, we have the No. 1 team on their home floor. But you have to keep things in perspective. With our guys, I never talk about home and road with them — never. You have to defend the same way, you have to box out the same way.”

Loyola (10-3, 1-0 Horizon League) took care of both areas, generally imposing its will and style. The Ramblers held Valparaiso (10-5, 0-1) to 20-for-56 shooting (35.7 percent), including 4-for-15 from three-point range, and outrebounded the Crusaders 34-32.

“It was a team effort,” Moser said when asked about the defense. “They have so many weapons. … That’s what our personality is — we don’t start anyone over 6-7. Our whole thing, as a team, we’re trying to play possession by possession team defense. Our guys have really bought into that. That’s the only way our program will be able to win.”

Ben Averkamp led Loyola with 16 points. Christian Thomas added 14 and Cully Payne 13.

Ryan Broekhoff had 15 points and seven rebounds for Valparaiso, and Kevin Van Wijk and LaVonte Dority had 10 points each.

The Ramblers opened a 48-40 lead with 6:29 left as the 6-9 Averkamp posted up the 5-11 Erik Buggs after a strong drive by Payne. Thomas added a basket with 5:45 left, and Averkamp scored over the 6-1 Dority to make it 52-42 with 4:23 left.

Loyola went 9-for-10 from the foul line in the game’s final 1:20, including 7-for-8 from Averkamp.

“Ben struggled for most of the game, and then down the stretch, he made some big plays and some big free throws,” Moser said. “That’s what great players do.”

Van Wijk’s three-point play drew Valparaiso to 37-35, and Matt Kenney’s drive made it 39-37, but Loyola answered with Averkamp’s three-point play and Jordan Hicks’ basket. The Ramblers had gone on a 7-0 run to take a 33-27 lead with 17:04 left, with Joe Crisman scoring the last five points.

Loyola used an 8-0 run — bookended by three-pointers from Payne and Devon Turk — to grab a 16-11 lead with 9:56 left in the first half. The Ramblers led 26-24 at halftime, with Payne hitting a three with 1:25 left. Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew turned his back while the ball was in the air on the point guard’s third connection from deep in the half.

Loyola went 5-for-10 from three-point range in the first half while holding the Crusaders to 10-for-34 shooting (29.4 percent), including 1-for-8 from three.

“We knew Loyola was really good coming in. We knew we’d have to play a really good game,” said Drew, whose team had been 7-0 at home this season.

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