Crusaders Kick Off Final Season of Mid-Con Play
GOLD DOME - SHREVEPORT, LA.
JANUARY 4, 2007 - 7 p.m.
TODAY'S MATCHUP: Valparaiso begins its final season of league play as a member of the Mid-Continent Conference as the Crusaders take on Centenary Thursday night. The Crusaders enter the game on a two-game winning streak, while the Gents have lost five of their last seven games. Valpo holds a 6-4 record all-time against Centenary, but are 5-1 against the Gents since they joined the Mid-Con prior to the 2003-04 campaign, including four straight wins.
LAST MEETING: The Crusaders snapped a four-game losing streak in style, downing Centenary 99-73 at the Athletics-Recreation Center on February 2, 2006. Seth Colclasure and Dan Oppland each had 23 points to pace Valpo's potent attack. Colclasure's 23-point night came courtesy of some fantastic shooting, hitting 7-of-8 shots from the field including 5-of-6 three-pointers, and making all four of his free throw attempts. Oppland's 23 marked the 27th straight game he had scored in double-figures. Mohamed Kone posted a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds, while Ron Howard chipped in 10 points.
LAST TIME OUT: Brandon McPherson's 3-pointer with 7:28 to play put Valparaiso ahead for good, and the Crusaders held on to make their return to the Athletics-Recreation Center a victorious one, defeating Chicago State Saturday night, 67-64. Shawn Huff led a balanced Crusader offense with 17 points, his highest output in the last eight games. Freshman Samuel Haanpaa finished with 14 points, including four 3-pointers, in his first career start, while McPherson added 13 points, his seventh double-digit performance in Valpo's last eight contests. Jake Diebler chipped in nine points, while Moussa Mbaye contributed eight points and a game-high nine rebounds.
ON THE AIR: Today's game, like every game this season, can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network, a three-station entity carrying Crusader athletics all over Northwest Indiana, and online at www.valpo.edu/athletics. Originating from WVUR, 95.1 FM in Valparaiso, the Valpo Sports Radio Network also includes WEFM, 95.9 FM in Michigan City and WAKE, 1500 AM in Valparaiso. Veteran broadcaster Todd Ickow returns for his 16th season on play-by-play, while WVUR's Mike Haase will handle the color commentary.
ONE FINAL GO-ROUND: Today's game marks the start of the final year of Mid-Con play for Valpo, one of just two institutions [Western Illinois] to be a member of the league since its inception as the AMCU in 1982-83. The Crusaders have been the league's most dominant program over the past decade plus, winning at least eight games in conference play in each of the last 13 seasons, including at least 10 league wins in 12 of those years. Valpo has also captured nine Mid-Con regular season crowns and eight Mid-Con tournament championships during its tenure in the league.
BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA: Valparaiso is renewing some old in-state rivalries this season, and continuing others, as a good portion of the Crusaders' non-conference slate is composed of fellow Hoosier State schools. Valpo kicked off the season with a game against NAIA foe Calumet, located in Whiting, and followed with the front end of a home-and-home series with IPFW. The Crusaders took on Butler, Valpo's all-time most common opponent, at the ARC for the first time in 13 seasons. Also during December, Valpo faced off against Evansville, the third-most common opponent in program history, and followed with a game at Ball State, whom they had not faced since the 1992-93 campaign and their fifth most-common opponent all-time.
USING THE FREEBIES: Valpo has showed a soft touch from the free throw line over the past month, hitting at a 79.3% (69-of-87) clip during the month of December. The Crusaders missed just three shots from the charity stripe during the Rainbow Classic, and matched a school record by shooting 100% from the line against Charlotte, hitting all 14 attempts. Valpo hit 30-of-33 attempts from the stripe during the three games, a 90.6% clip, by far the best percentage among the tournament's eight teams.
THREE IN A ROW: With their game against #3/1 Ohio State on December 2, the Crusaders found themselves on the court with the nation's top-ranked team for the third year in a row. Valpo traveled to Champaign, Ill. to take on the Ilini while they were #1 during the 2004-05 campaign, and last year the Crusaders played at Cameron Indoor Stadium and #1 Duke. The only other time in the 90 years of Crusader basketball that Valpo has faced the nation's top team was during the 1979-80 season, when DePaul, led by Mark Aguirre, played in Hilltop Gym.
PRESEASON POLL PLACES VALPO FOURTH: The Crusaders received 156 points in the Mid-Continent Conference's preseason polling of coaches, sports information directors, and selected media members, placing them fourth out of the league's eight teams. Projected league champs Oral Roberts registered 260 points. IUPUI and UMKC are projected second and third, respectively, while Oakland, Western Illinois, Southern Utah, and Centenary round out the fifth through eighth spots.
CRUSADER ALUMNI RETURN TO THE BENCH: Valpo head coach Dr. Homer Drew has always found places for former players as assistant coaches, and this year is no exception. Bryce Drew is back for his second year on the bench, having been promoted to the title of associate head coach during the offseason. Jason Hawkins, who served as the director of basketball operations during the 2003-04 campaign, returns for his first year as an assistant coach, while Tarrance Price, who played for Valpo from 1998-2000, returns as the director of basketball operations.
A LOT OF HANDS TO SHAKE: Pregame captains meetings at center court will be crowded on Valpo's side this year, as five Crusaders have been designated as captains by Coach Drew. Senior Moussa Mbaye, juniors Shawn Huff and Jarryd Loyd, and sophomores Jake Diebler and Brandon McPherson will share this year's captaincy.
NAP TOWN GOES DOWNTOWN: Sophomore guard Brandon McPherson has put together some of the best performances of his young career in the past few weeks. McPherson was one of three Valpo players in double figures against Chicago State, scoring 13 points and dishing out five assists without a turnover. The Indianapolis native led the Crusaders in their victory over San Francisco, matching his career-high of 24 points (set the night before against Charlotte) and hitting all four of his 3-point attempts. McPherson has now set or matched his career-high scoring output five times this season. He leads the team with eight efforts of at least 10 points this year, and his 12.0 points per game also paces the Crusaders. McPherson has also proven efficient with his shot selection on the year, shooting 58.4% from the field and 57.1% from behind the 3-point arc, both marks among the best in the Mid-Con. He was especially proficient with the 3-point shot in the Rainbow Classic, hitting 10-of-14 shots from long distance in the three games, his 71.4% clip ranking as a tournament-best.
SHARP-SHOOTING FINN: Freshman guard Samuel Haanpaa has shown no hesitation in shooting the ball early on in his first season with the Crusaders. Haanpaa set a new career high against Charlotte, nailing 5-of-6 first half shots, including four triples, on his way to 24 points for the game. Haanpaa has reached double figures in six games this year, including 14 in Valpo's win over Chicago State, and has hit at least four 3-pointers in four contests. His free throw shooting has also improved dramatically, as he started out his career 4-of-17 from the line after two misses against Ohio State, but since that point is 15-of-16 from the charity stripe.
ALSO FROM FINLAND: Junior guard/forward Shawn Huff has proven to be an accurate barometer of Crusader success this season. In the seven games Huff has scored at least 10 points, Valpo is 5-2, with one of the losses being the last-second setback against Marquette, while the Crusaders have not sniffed victory in any of the six games he has not reached double figures. Huff poured in a game-high 17 points in Valpo's win over Chicago State.
LOCKDOWN MBAYE: Senior center Moussa Mbaye has stepped up his game to another level in the last two games. His post defense against San Francisco held the Dons' frontcourt players to just seven points in Valpo's win. Against Chicago State, Moussa knocked down three jumpers on his way to eight points, matched his career high with nine rebounds, and also set new career bests in assists (3) and steals (2). Mbaye played 32 minutes in the victory over the Cougars, also a career-high.
CENTENARY'S SEASON: The Gents enter today's contest at 6-9, with two wins over Texas State and one apiece against Southeast Missouri, Arkansas-Little Rock, Nicholls State, and Louisiana Tech. Centenary also has some good losses, as its last two defeats have come at the hands of Texas and Baylor, both road losses by less than 15 points.
HAMILTON IS BACK: Tyrone Hamilton, a member of the Mid-Con All-Newcomer team during the 2004-05 campaign, missed all of last season with a medical redshirt, but is leading the Gents so far in 2006-07. Hamilton's 15.5 points per game paces Centenary, and he is also tied for the team lead with 3.4 assists per game.
GETTING HELP: Hamilton is not Centenary's only offensive threat, however. Senior starters Larry Logan and Alexander Starr are each also averaging double figures in scoring (Logan 11.5 PPG, Starr 11.3 PPG), and are 1-2 on the team in rebounding. Sharpshooter Bryan Baumann has been an offensive spark off the bench as well, connecting on two 3-pointers per game while averaging 9.3 points.