Valparaiso went on the road for the first of two games in Ohio looking to avoid a mis-step in search of earning the Horizon League men's basketball title.
The Crusaders left Cleveland with the first half of their road trip mission accomplished by using a quick start to retain its hold on first place with an 80-72 win over Cleveland State before 2,403 on Saturday afternoon at the Wolstein Center.
The Crusaders, 9-2 in the HL and 19-6 overall with the win, raced to a 12-0 lead before Cleveland State freshman Bryn Forbes snapped the Viking scoreless string with a jumper at the 14:19 mark.
But unlike the first meeting of the two at Valpo back on Jan. 4 when the Crusaders took a big early lead only to see the Vikings rally, this time it was all Valpo, which had five in double figure scoring led by Ryan Broekhoff with 15 points.
Forbes, who had a career-best 24 points, was one of three Vikings in double figures as sophomore Marlin Mason kicked in 16 points and senior Tim Kamczyc added 10 along with a game-high eight rebounds.
"We lost this with our lack of defense and that's on me," said Cleveland State coach Gary Waters. "If we score 72 points we should win. We let one get away."
Cleveland State 4-7 in the HL and 12-13 with the loss, trailed by as many as 18 in the first 20 minutes as Valpo was keyed by Bobby Capobianco of Loveland, Ohio, who tallied 11 of his 13 points before intermission that had the Crusaders up 44-30.
"We are pleased to come here and get the win," said Valpo second year coach Bryce Drew. "Today we played a much better team than we faced (Jan. 4). Cleveland State is a young team but today played like a much more veteran team."
In the first meeting of the two teams that began HL play for both, the Crusaders also had a quick start on the way to a 74-50 romp.
Also key in the Crusaders controling the first half was hitting 13-of-15 from the free throw line that included 5-of-6 from both Capobianco and Broehkoff.
Despite scoring as many as 70 points for just the third time in HL play this season, the Vikings were never able to get closer than eight points, getting there twice, including at the end when Forbes hit a 3-pointer with just 14 seconds left.
Forbes, who rebounded from a 4-point game in a 66-60 win over Youngstown State, echoed Waters in the post-game press conference.
"We didn't show enough energy (at the beginning of the game) and we weren't playing disciplined defense," said Forbes, who hit on 8-of-10 from the field including 4-of-4 from behind the 3-point arc in the loss.
For Cleveland State, the goal remains getting into the top six in the HL, which would give the Vikings a first round tournament home game. At 4-7, the Vikings sit in seventh with five league games left.
That 5-game stretch begins Tuesday at Detroit, where the Titans will look to rebound after a road loss at Green Bay dropped the Motor City crew to 8-4, which is 1-1/2 games behind first place Valpo. Cleveland State is back home Feb. 15 to host Green Bay. That is followed by a Feb. 17 game with Milwaukee and a Feb. 20 home game with Wright State.
"There is still a lot of basketball left," said Drew of his team's chances of claiming the regular sreason title. "This league is so balanced that (being in first place) can change very quickly. Valpo improved to 15-0 when leading the half.
The Cruasaders continue their 2-game road swing through Ohio with a Tuesday date at Wright State before returning home to play Feb. 16 against Detroit. In the first meeting between Valpo and Detroit saw the Crusaders rally from a 50-32 halftime deficit to grab an 89-88 victory on the road.
"We still intend to flip the script on the league season," said Waters. "We were 2-6 in the first half and we look to go 6-2 in the second half but we can now afford just one more loss if we are going to do that."
Despite the big leads held by Valpo throughout the game, the final box showed the teams separated by four 2-point field goals. Valpo go 19-of-25 from the line and 7-for-18 from behind the arc while hitting 27-of-49 overall from the field.
Cleveland State was 19-of-24 from the charity stripe and 7-for-15 on its 3-pointers but went 23-for-49 overall from the field. The Vikings didn't take advantage of their 33-20 rebounding edge but did lose the turnover battle, giving the ball away 17 times while Valpo limited its mistakes to just nine.