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Valpo Looks For Third Straight Win Saturday Versus WSU
Cory Johnson paced the Crusaders in Thursday's win with 19 points. (Ray Acevedo)
Cory Johnson paced the Crusaders in Thursday's win with 19 points. (Ray Acevedo)

Friday, February 11, 2011

#-/RV Valparaiso (18-7, 10-3 Horizon)
Game #26: Saturday, Feb. 12 - 7:05 p.m.
Wright State (17-10, 10-5 Horizon)
Athletics-Recreation Center (5,000) - Valparaiso, Ind.
 
Next Up in Crusader Basketball: Valparaiso looks for its third straight victory on Saturday as the Crusaders aim to remain atop the Horizon League standings, hosting Wright State at the ARC.  Valpo improved to 9-2 at home this year with its Thursday victory over Detroit.

Last Time Out: Valparaiso overcame a nine-point first half deficit to take the halftime lead and then never trailed in the second half in an 82-74 victory over Detroit at the Athletics-Recreation Center Thursday night.  Cory Johnson led the Crusaders with 19 points, while Ryan Broekhoff and Brandon Wood added 17 apiece in the winning effort.

Following the Crusaders: Every game this season will be available on the Valpo Sports Radio Network, with Saturday's game broadcast live on WAKE (1500 AM, Valparaiso) and WEFM (95.9 FM, Michigan City).  Todd Ickow is back for his 19th season on play-by-play, while Adam Amin will handle the color commentary Saturday.  The live audio will also be available at www.valpoathletics.com, as well as live video through the Horizon League Network and live stats.

Head Coach Homer Drew: One of only a handful of coaches at the Division I level coaching on a floor named in his honor, head coach Homer Drew is the seventh-winningest active coach in D-I men’s basketball.  Drew enters Sunday's game with a 366-300 record in 21 seasons at the helm of the Crusader program and a 635-422 record in 32 years overall as a head coach.

Series Notes: Wright State leads the all-time series against the Crusaders 10-6 and holds a 5-4 advantage since Valpo joined the Horizon League.  The Raiders had won five in a row until the Crusaders earned a 71-60 victory in Daytno earlier this year on Jan. 14.  Brandon Wood led all players with 26 points in that win, while Valpo held WSU to just two field goals in the first 18 minutes of the second half to help overcome a 14-point deficit.

The Road Ahead: Valpo plays its next-to-last road game of the regular season on Wednesday as the Crusaders travel to take on Milwaukee.  They then return home for a BracketBusters showdown live on ESPN2 against Missouri State next Saturday, and then turn right back around for a Monday night road game at Green Bay.

Scouting Wright State: The Raiders enter Saturday’s contest in third place in the Horizon League standings, sitting at 10-5 in league play and 17-10 overall.  Wright State is led offensively by senior guards Vaughn Duggins and N’Gai Evans, who average 17.0 and 14.1 points per game, respectively.  The Raiders also boast the best scoring defense in the Horizon League, surrendering just 61.0 points per game.

Controlling Their Own Destiny: After losing to Cleveland State last Thursday, the Crusaders found themselves 1 1/2 games back of the Vikings in the HL standings.  But in just a week’s time, Valpo has put together two straight wins while the Vikings have lost twice, leaving the Crusaders a half-game up on CSU and a full game ahead of Wright State.  Valpo is the only league team left with just three league losses and controls its own destiny.

Home Court Advantage: Valpo has taken full advantage so far this year of the opportunities it has had to play in front of home fans at the Athletics-Recreation Center.  Valpo is currently 9-2 at the ARC this year after Thursday’s win and is now 242-108 (.691) all-time at the ARC, including a 189-43 (.815) mark over the last 17-plus years at home.  The Crusaders have also secured an 18th consecutive winning season on their home court.

BracketBuster Matchup: The Crusaders learned last week that they had earned another national TV appearance as part of the BracketBusters event, as Valpo will host Missouri State live on ESPN2 at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 19.  This marks the second time the Crusaders have made a national TV appearance for the BracketBusters game, joining the 2007-2008 squad which hosted Miami (Ohio) on ESPN Classic.

National Poll Watch: For the first time in almost nine years, the Crusaders are receiving votes in one of the two major national polls.  Valpo picked up two points in this week’s edition of the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll to be listed among the others receiving votes for the second consecutive week.  Valpo last made an appearance in one of the national polls in March of 2002, accumulating five points in the last poll prior to the NCAA Tournament that year.

Winning With Defense: Valpo has improved its defensive efficiency from 109.4 points per 100 possessions (304th nationally) a year ago to 95.5/100 possessions (68th nationally) this year, a big key to their 18 wins so far this year.  Seven times this year, the Crusaders have held a D-I opponent to 60 points or fewer, while they are 14-1 on the season when holding their opposition under 70 points.

How Improved It Is: Last year, the Crusaders surrendered a league-worst 74.3 points per game and gave up 71.8 ppg in league play only, which ranked ninth among the ten Horizon League squads.  So far this year, it has been a 180 in terms of the defensive output, as Valpo is giving up just 66.4 ppg overall, which is good for third in the league.  The defense has been even better in league play so far, as the Crusaders have allowed just 65.5 ppg against league foes, also third-best.

Offense Steps It Up:
Last year’s Crusader squad led the Horizon League in scoring offense, and with most of that firepower returning, it was only a matter of time before the Valpo offense started posting big numbers.  Over the last four games, the Crusaders are averaging 79.5 points per game and have broken 80 on three occasions after hitting 80 points just once in the season’s 21 games.  It has been a balanced attack as well, as over the four-game stretch, five different Valpo players are averaging at least 10 points per game.

Just Win, Baby, Win: Valpo has already accumulated 18 wins this season, tied for the second-most by a Crusader squad in the last eight years.  Only the 2007-2008 team, which won 22 games, has won more in that time frame.  With two more victories, Valpo would win 20 games for the tenth time under head coach Homer Drew.

A Look at RPI: The Crusaders enter this weekend as one of three Horizon League teams in the top-60 in the nation in RPI.  According to WarrenNolan.com, Valpo sits at #54 heading into the Wright State game, joining Cleveland State (#39) and Butler (#46) among the nation's best.

Who Needs Rally Caps?:
Yet again last Saturday, Valparaiso flipped a game in its favor after trailing by double digits, overcoming a deficit as large as 12 points and which was 10 points with just 9:09 to play.  In fact, the Crusaders are now above .500 this year in games where they have trailed by 10 or more points at any juncture, going 6-5 in such contests, while on the flip side, they are 15-2 in games where they have led by 10 or more points.  In addition, Valpo has overcome nine-point deficits in two of its last four games.

Sharp Shooters From Inside: Valpo has cemented itself as one of the best shooting teams in the nation this year, entering this week ranked 22nd nationally with a .476 field goal percentage.  The Crusaders have been especially proficient inside the arc, hitting at a .550 clip from two-point range, good for fifth nationally.  Valpo has hit at least half of their two-point attempts in 13 of its last 16 games, only failing to do so at Butler (12-of-27), against Green Bay (14-of-34) and at Cleveland State (20-of-48), all of which were losses.  Among Valpo’s nine-man rotation, seven players are hitting at least 50% from inside the arc this season.

Stop, Thief!: The Crusaders lead the league and rank 34th nationally with an average of 8.4 steals/game this season, and have proven very consistent as pickpockets throughout the year.  In 24 of 25 games, Valpo has tallied at least six steals, with the only exception being when the Crusaders registered just four at Kansas.  Valpo’s streak of 23 straight games with at least six steals currently leads the nation, while the Crusaders have stepped it up recently as well, tallying double-digit thefts in four of their last five contests.

Working Extra Time: Two of Valpo’s last three league wins (Butler, @YSU) has required an overtime session to decide, moving the Crusaders’ record to 3-0 in league play and 3-1 overall this season when playing extra time.  Valpo’s four overtime games this year are the most in a single season by a Crusader squad since the 1992-1993 team played eight overtime games, tied for the NCAA single-season record.

4 Wins x 3: Valpo’s win over Detroit Jan. 16 gave the Crusaders their third four-game winning streak of the 2010-2011 campaign, something that has not happened for Valpo since the 2001-2002 season.  That year’s Crusader squad won seven straight between November and December, captured nine straight wins in the heart of Mid-Con play and then won five consecutive games entering the NCAA Tournament.

10 Wins Before the New Year: The Crusaders’ win over Ball State Dec. 28 assured Valpo of heading into the 2011 calendar year with a 10-4 record, matching a program record for most wins prior to January 1.  The 2001-2002 team also posted a 10-4 mark prior to New Year’s Day 2002, while the 2007-2008 Crusaders went 10-3 in the 2007 portion of the schedule.

103-102: The antithesis of most of the Crusaders’ games this season was the 103-102 win in regulation at Oakland Dec. 21 to capture the Lou Henson Award Tournament.  Some notes regarding that high-scoring victory can be found on page six of this release.

Dominating Defensively, Part 2: Valpo’s performance on the defensive end against Milwaukee Jan. 21 was one of its best of the year.  The Crusaders didn’t surrender a field goal to the Panthers until 13:46 into the game and ended up limiting UWM to 28.3% (13-of-46) shooting, including 9.5% (2-of-21) from outside the 3-point line.  Valpo also forced 16 turnovers while giving up just 43 points, its best performance since holding Detroit to 41 on Jan. 8, 2009.

Dominating Defensively: Dec. 11's win over IPFW was right up there with the Milwaukee game for the best defensive effort by Valpo this year.  The Crusaders held the Mastodons to just 13 field goals on 26% shooting and limited IPFW to just 47 points overall.  In addition, Valpo held IPFW to just three 3-pointers on the evening and limited the Mastodons to just three assists, the fewest by a Valpo opponent since Dec. 30, 1999.

A Big Victory: Valpo easily handled Purdue North Central Nov. 18, limiting the Panthers to just 44 points in a 98-44 victory.  The 54-point margin of victory ties for the sixth-highest differential in program history, matching the winning margin in a 66-12 win against Chicago Tech back in the 1920-1921 season.

Offensive Explosion: The Crusaders lit up the scoreboard throughout their season opener against IU Northwest, scoring 59 first-half points and adding 52 second-half points.  A short-range flip up and in by Cory Johnson with 5:49 to play put Valpo over the century mark as it utilized the third digit on the scoreboard for the first time since a 105-73 win over Longwood on Jan. 7, 2006.  The 111 points matched the most the Crusaders have scored in the last 15 seasons as well.

Crusaders Match Attendance Record: Valparaiso has sold out a pair of games this year - its Dec. 7 game against Purdue and Jan. 29 against Butler - and matched the ARC all-time attendance record in both contests.  The attendance of 5,432 for both games tied the mark set on Feb. 5, 2008 when the Crusaders welcomed a sellout crowd for a top-10 Butler squad.

Breaking Out the New Gear: The Crusaders unveiled their new uniform design Dec. 7 against Purdue, and also debuted gray uniforms in the nationally-televised contest.  The grays will serve as alternate uniforms, mainly for use on special occasions, while Valpo will continue to wear white jerseys at home and gold uniforms on the road.

Valpo Tabbed Fourth in Preseason Poll: Valparaiso was picked to finish in fourth place in the Horizon League preseason poll, tallying 312 points in the polling.  Butler, the reigning national runner-up and last season's regular season and tournament champions, was a unanimous selection atop the league standings.  Detroit edged out Cleveland State as the second pick.

Pair of Crusaders on Preseason All-League Squads:
Valpo was represented by a pair of players on the Horizon League’s preseason All-League teams.  Redshirt junior Brandon Wood was named to the First Team, while fifth-year senior Cory Johnson earned a spot on the Second Team.

Oh Captain My Captain: The Crusaders will have a pair of captains for the 2010-2011 season.  Cory Johnson and Howard Little will serve in the role, each for the second straight year.

Sun, Fun and Basketball: This year’s Crusader squad got the chance to bond as a team with a preseason foreign trip to Cancun in August, the first time Valpo has taken advantage of the chance to take a preseason trip.  The Crusaders got 10 days of practice in Valpo before taking off for Cancun with all 13 players, including newcomers Jay Harris and Kevin Van Wijk.  While down in Cancun, Valpo won all four games, including a come-from-behind 102-84 win over Pioneros de Quintana Roo, which finished third in the 20-team LNBP last year.

Players of the Week: Valparaiso has claimed three Player of the Week honors from the Horizon League already this season.  Brandon Wood earned the Crusaders’ first honor of the year, sharing Player of the Week accolades after he averaged 28.0 ppg en route to All-Tournament honors at the Lou Henson Award Tournament.  Cory Johnson was tabbed as the league’s Player of the Week Jan. 10 after averaging 23.0 ppg in two league victories for the Crusaders, while Wood was again honored the next week after tallying 21.5 ppg in a pair of league road wins.

Wood Goes Off: Redshirt junior guard Brandon Wood had the biggest game by a Horizon League player in league play so far this season last Saturday at Youngstown State.  Wood hit 11-of-21 from the floor, including a trio of 3-pointer, en route to 31 points in the Crusaders’ overtime win.  The junior also posted five rebounds and four assists and tied his career high with four steals.  Last time out in the win over Detroit, Wood hit three big 3-pointers early in the second half and ended the night with 17 points while also pulling down five boards.  Wood has contributed all over the place for Valpo this season, currently leading the team in scoring (16.3 ppg), assists (3.4 apg) and steals (1.8 spg) and ranking third in rebounding (4.5 rpg).  The junior finds himself among the league leaders in a number of categories as well, ranking second in steals, fourth in scoring and seventh in assists.

Johnson Bounces Back:
After failing to score in double figures in back-to-back games for the first time in his Crusader career, fifth-year senior forward Cory Johnson came back on Thursday against Detroit with a team-high 19 points.  The senior hit 8-of-11 from insde the arc and also tied for team-high honors with five rebounds.  On the year, Johnson ranks second on the team and seventh in the league, averaging 15.2 ppg while connecting at a 57.9% clip from inside the arc.

Broekhoff Does It All: Sophomore Ryan Broekhoff has been huge from behind the arc for the Crusaders recently, going 17-of-26 from 3-point range in Valpo's last five games.  But the sophomore proved to be more than just a sharpshooter on Thursday against Detroit, stuffing the entire stat sheet.  Broekhoff ended the game with 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-5 from downtown, and tied for team-high honors with five rebounds.  He matched his career high with five assists, set a new career standard with a game-high five steals and also blocked three shots.  Broekhoff, who currently leads the team in blocks (1.2 bpg), is second in rebounding (4.8 rpg) and third in scoring (10.6 ppg), is pacing the Horizon League, hitting exactly half his 3-point attempts this year and has raised his percentage to .588 in league games.

Little Quietly Produces: Senior Howard Little has quietly been a solid presence on both ends of the floor for the Crusaders recently, scoring nine or more points in each of Valpo’s last seven contests.  The senior, who has 12 double-digit scoring efforts on the season, posted nine points and tied for team-high honors with five rebounds last time out against Detroit, and is now averaging 9.4 ppg and a team-best 5.1 rpg on the year.  Little also ranks third in the Horizon League in field goal percentage, connecting at a .535 clip from the floor.

Cracking the Career Charts: A number of Crusaders have already cracked Valpo’s career charts in different categories or are on pace to do so very soon.  Little surpassed Tracy Gipson against Detroit, tallying his 139th career steal, and is now just three thefts shy of Raitis Grafs in eighth place.  Little also is now tenth in career games played (123) and continues to be on pace to set the program record, barring injury.  Broekhoff’s career 3-point percentage of .430 is tied for fifth-best in Valpo history.  Wood and Johnson both have accumulated 50+ games played for their careers, allowing them to be ranked ninth (17.1 ppg) and 11th (15.4 ppg) on the scoring average chart.  Johnson also moved onto the career field-goal percentage chart last month, surpassing 500 career attempts, and currently ranks fifth, shooting at a .529 clip for his career.

Quickly: Valpo ended Thursday’s game against Detroit with 22 fast-break points, the most since accumulating 29 in the season opener against IU Northwest ... the Crusaders out-scored Detroit on the break 15-6 in the final 20 minutes ... all nine members of the Crusader rotation played at least 12 minutes Thursday and all tallied at least one point and one rebound.