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Valpo Welcomes Concordia (Wis.) to ARC on Saturday
Tommy Kurth made his first two career starts last week for the Crusaders. (Andy Keilen)
Tommy Kurth made his first two career starts last week for the Crusaders. (Andy Keilen)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Concordia (Wis.) at Valparaiso - Saturday, Dec. 17, 2009 - 7:05 p.m.

The Matchup: Valparaiso concludes a brief two-game homestand Saturday evening as the Crusaders host Concordia (Wis.) to round out the non-league home slate.  The Crusaders have taken on the Falcons ten times in program history and own a 7-3 edge in the all-time series, but all the prior meetings occurred in the 1930s and 1940s, with the last matchup taking place early in the 1942-1943 campaign.

Last Time Out:
Valparaiso put together a complete game in its return to the ARC, locking down on defense while lighting up the scoreboard on the offensive end in an 81-49 victory over Toledo last Saturday afternoon.  The Crusaders used a 23-8 run starting midway through the first half to push their lead into double figures for good, and then came out of the locker room following halftime with a 14-0 spurt to ice the game.  Cory Johnson and Brandon McPherson tied for game-high scoring honors with 15 points, the former going 7-of-10 from the field while the latter was one of three Crusaders to knock down a trio of 3-pointers.  Johnson also pulled down a game-best nine rebounds and came up with three steals.  Brandon Wood added 13 points, five rebounds and six assists.

The Road Ahead: Valpo hits the road for two non-league matchups sandwiching the Christmas holiday, playing at IPFW Dec. 22 and at Akron Dec. 27.  The Horizon League campaign then begins in earnest, as the Crusaders host Milwaukee Dec. 31 and Green Bay Jan. 2 at the ARC.

Following the Crusaders:
  As always, Saturday’s game can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network (WAKE, 1500 AM, Valparaiso; WEFM, 95.9 FM, Michigan City).  Veteran broadcaster Todd Ickow returns for his 19th season on play-by-play for the Crusaders, while Valpo alumnus Andy Viano will handle the color commentary.  WVUR, Valpo’s student station, will also be broadcasting the game over its airwaves.  Links for the VSRN audio and video through the Horizon League Network, as well as live statistics, can be found at www.valpoathletics.com.

Finding the Defense: The Crusaders had given up 80 or more points in each of their first seven games against D-I opponents this season, but completely flipped the script in that regard against Toledo.  Valpo hounded the Rockets into 37% shooting, including just one three-pointer, and also forced 18 turnovers to hold Toledo to just 49 points on the night.

Enjoying an Easy Victory:
If the 32-point victory over the Rockets seemed like a large margin of victory for Valpo, that’s because it was.  Not since Jan. 2, 2008, when the Crusaders downed Indiana Wesleyan 93-46, had Valpo won by at least 32 points.  In addition, the 32-point win matched the largest win by a Crusader squad over another D-I school in the last eight seasons.

Helping Each Other Out: For the seventh time this season, Valpo recorded a positive assist/turnover ratio against Toledo, handing out 18 assists while matching a season low with just nine turnovers.  The Crusaders lead the Horizon League with a 1.22 assist/turnover ratio, one of just two positive ratios in the league.  Valpo’s success in handling the basketball is a big reason it also currently leads the league both in scoring offense (75.0 PPG) and field goal percentage (.467).

Dialing Long Distance: Valparaiso put together one of its best games of the year shooting from behind the 3-point line last Saturday against Toledo.  The Crusaders matched a season-high with 12 made triples and connected at a 52.2% clip from deep, its second-best single-game 3-point percentage of the year.  Valpo currently ranks third in the Horizon League in 3-point percentage (38.5%) and second in 3-pointers/game (8.0).

Home Cooking:
The Crusaders will look to continue their home dominance tonight in their final non-league game at the ARC this season.  With wins over IU-South Bend and Toledo to kick off the 12-game home slate, the Crusaders are now 172-37 (.823) since the start of the 1993-1994 season at the ARC.  Valpo has also finished above .500 in each of the last 16 seasons at home.

Division I Scoring Record: Since Valparaiso made its move to the Division I ranks in the late 1970’s, the Crusaders have had a number of players who could fill up the scoring column.  Names like Lubos Barton, David Redmon, Casey Schmidt, Tracy Gipson, Raitis Grafs, Dan Oppland and of course Bryce Drew reside atop the Crusaders’ career points and points per game charts.  None of them, however, have scored as many points in a single game as Brandon Wood did Nov. 27 at Georgia Southern.  Wood connected on 13-of-18 from the floor, including three 3-pointers, and 10-of-12 from the foul line to score a Valpo Division I record 39 points, also setting a new Legends Classic single-game scoring mark.

Tri-Captains: Head coach Homer Drew has appointed a trio of Crusaders to serve as captains for the 2009-2010 season.  Fifth-year senior Brandon McPherson, redshirt-junior Cory Johnson and junior Howard Little will represent the Crusaders in that capacity this year.  For McPherson, it is the fourth straight season he has been tabbed a captain.

Wood Fills it Up: Redshirt sophomore guard Brandon Wood has proven to be among the most prolific scorers the Crusaders have seen in their D-I history, scoring 30 or more points twice already to join Bryce Drew and Dan Oppland as the only players in the last 15 years to score 30 multiple times in a career.  Wood, who currently paces the Horizon League with 20.2 points/game and also ranks among the league’s top-five players in field goal percentage, also has reached at least 20 points on three other occasions.  But Wood showcased his ability to do more than just score last week, pulling down a team-high nine rebounds at #5/5 Purdue and going for 13 points, five rebounds and a season-best six assists in the win over Toledo.

All-Tournament Honor: Wood represented the Crusaders on the Legends Classic Statesboro Subregional All-Tournament Team after averaging 23.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game while shooting 60% from the field as Valpo went 2-1 in Statesboro.  His tournament was obviously highlighted by his Valpo D-I record 39 points to go with nine rebounds agaisnt host Georgia Southern, but he also added 19 points against Troy and chipped in 12 points and seven rebounds vs. Arkansas-Fort Smith.

Johnson Works Down Low: Redshirt junior Cory Johnson has been a consistent force in the paint so far for the Crusaders, pacing Valpo on the glass in seven games and reaching double figures in scoring on nine occasions.  Most recently, Johnson tied for game-high honors with 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting against Toledo, while also leading all players with nine rebounds.  He currently leads the league in field goal percentage (.556) and also ranks among the league’s top-five in scoring (15.4, 5th) and rebounding (6.8, 4th).

Thief on the Loose: Johnson totaled six steals in Valpo’s first three games of the season before going the next five-and-a-half games without a theft.  But since coming out of the locker room for the second half against Purdue, Johnson has registered eight steals, coming up with five in the final 20 minutes against the Boilermakers before tallying three in the win over Toledo.

McPherson Hits from Deep: Fifth year senior Brandon McPherson got the Crusaders’ big 14-0 run against Toledo to start the second half going with back-to-back 3-pointers en route to tying for game-high honors with 15 points.  For McPherson, connecting from downtown is nothing new this year, as he leads the team with 2.3 made 3-pointers/game while hitting at a team-best .489 clip from behind the arc, third-best in the Horizon League.

Freshmen Seeing Playing Time: A trio of freshman guards have played significant minutes for Valpo so far this season.  Ryan Broekhoff, Matt Kenney and Tommy Kurth have combined to make 13 starts and are playing about 47 minutes/game.  While they only score 11 points/game as a group, they have all  proven to be adept at handling the basketball, combining for 45 assists versus just 16 turnovers this year so far, a sterling 2.81 assist/turnover ratio.

Quickly: Broekhoff and junior Michael Rogers each matched their season best with three made 3-poiners against Toledo ... Valpo shot 52.5% from the field in the win over the Rockets, the fifth time this season the Crusaders have connected on at least half their shot attempts ... all 12 healthy Crusaders played versus Toledo, ten of which scored at least two points, ten of which pulled down a rebound and nine of which handed out an assist.