CENTENARY (1-7, 7-16) at VALPARAISO (10-11, 4-3)
ATHLETICS-RECREATION CENTER - VALPARAISO, IND.
FEBRUARY 3, 2007 - 7:05 p.m.
TODAY'S MATCHUP: Coming off of a 70-67 overtime victory over Oral Roberts on Thursday, Valparaiso looks to secure its spot in the conference's upper echelon as the Crusaders host the Gents of Centenary tonight. Centenary has dropped its last six games, including a 45-42 loss at the hands of Western Illinois on Thursday. The Crusaders already own a 66-62 victory this year over the Gents in their matchup in Shreveport, extending their edge in the all-time series to 7-4, including a 6-1 mark since the Gents joined the Mid-Con prior to the 2003-04 campaign.
LAST TIME OUT: Valparaiso stormed back from a nine-point deficit with under two minutes to play in regulation, forcing overtime on a Shawn Huff 3-pointer with five seconds to play, and held Oral Roberts to just two points in the extra session as the Crusaders downed the Mid-Con leaders, 70-67, Thursday night at the Athletics-Recreation Center. The Crusaders used a stellar defensive effort down the stretch to come back for the win, as ORU did not hit a field goal for the last 11 minutes of the ballgame. Valpo hit four 3-pointers in the final two minutes of regulation to overcome the nine-point deficit, with Huff hitting two in the final 20 seconds. Huff, who led all scorers with 21 points, also drained the 3-pointer midway through overtime that put the Crusaders ahead for good.
LAST MEETING: Jake Diebler set a new career high with 16 points, including three key 3-pointers in the second half, as Valparaiso defeated Centenary, 66-62, January 4 in Shreveport, La. His final triple put Valpo ahead by seven points with 4:55 to play, but Centenary chipped away at the lead, eventually getting an opportunity to tie the game at the foul line with just seconds remaining. But Larry Logan missed his first attempt and, after intentionally missing the second, Urule Igbavboa grabbed the rebound to secure the victory.
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.
ATMOSPHERE AMONG THE BEST: ESPN.com writer Kyle Whelliston named Valparaiso as one of his five best college basketball game atmospheres last week as part of ESPN's Student Spirit Week. In conjunction with Student Spirit Week, ESPN.com had seven experts select five schools apiece based on the best game atmospheres. Valpo was one of 22 schools named by the writers, with other selections including Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Indiana, among others. Whelliston said about Valpo, Â?...The crowd can be so intense it can be both a sixth and a seventh man (as in a heroic near-miss versus ranked Marquette in November)..."
CRUSADERS AND BRONCOS FACING OFF: Valpo's final non-conference opponent was determined earlier this week, as the Crusaders will travel to Western Michigan to take on the Broncos on Saturday, February 17 in a matchup derived from the O'Reilly ESPNU BracketBusters pool. WMU owns an 8-11 record on the season, including a 4-3 mark in Mid-American Conference play. The matchup renews one of Valpo's oldest rivalries, as the two squads first faced off in 1920 and have met a total of 62 times, with the Broncos holding a 36-26 edge in the series.
GETTING DEFENSIVE: As they have done so often in the past two weeks, the Crusaders locked down defensively on Oral Roberts Thursday, allowing the Golden Eagles no field goals over the game's final 11 minutes. The performance mirrors a stretch of the same length at the beginning of the UMKC game, when Valpo held the Kangaroos without a make from the field until nine minutes remained in the first half. Valpo held UMKC to just 52 points in that game, the lowest allowed by a Crusader squad in an OT contest in at least 50 years.
BALANCED ATTACK: One of the trademarks of this year's Crusader squad has been balance, as no one player can be keyed upon by opposing defenses. Four Valpo players are averaging double figures, with sophomore Brandon McPherson leading the way with 11.7 points per game. Freshman Samuel Haanpaa and sophomore Urule Igbavboa each contribute 10.9 ppg, while junior Shawn Huff is averaging 10.5 ppg. Those four have combined for 49 games in double figures, with McPherson and Igbavboa leading the way with 13 double-digit efforts apiece. McPherson and Huff have each led Valpo in six games this year in the scoring column, while Igbavboa has paced the Crusaders five times and Haanpaa four times.
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.
THE POST PRESENCE: Sophomore forward Urule Igbavboa put together one of the best offensive games of his career Thursday night in Valpo's overtime win against Oral Roberts. Igbavboa matched his career high with eight field goals made, needing just 11 attempts to do so, for his 17 points on the night. He also matched a Valpo season-high and set a career-high, playing 41 minutes and committing just two fouls, despite being tasked with guarding Caleb Green for most of the game. Igbavboa has now reached double figures in seven of Valpo's last nine games, and is tied for second on the team in scoring with 10.9 ppg, among the top-20 in the league. He is also averaging 7.1 caroms per contest, second-best in the Mid-Con. In league play, Igbavboa is putting up 13.5 ppg and 6.8 rpg, both marks pacing the Crusaders and among the league's top-10.
HUFF HITS SHOTS: Junior guard/forward Shawn Huff proved that he was the man to take the big shots Thursday night against Oral Roberts. Huff hit just two of his first seven attempts from behind the arc against the Golden Eagles, but hit three monster triples to close out the game. The first brought Valpo to within two points with 18 seconds to play, while the second tied the game with five seconds remaining, forcing overtime. The third came halfway through the extra session, giving the Crusaders the lead for good. Huff finished the night with 21 points and five rebounds, including a career-best five triples. Huff's 21 points was the second-highest output of his career, behind only the 22 he put up against Marquette earlier this year.
TAKING THE FLOOR: Sophomore guard Brandon McPherson put in 32 minutes of hard-fought action Thursday night, playing a key role in Valpo's win over the Golden Eagles. McPherson scored nine points on three 3-pointers while also posting team-best totals of six rebounds and four assists in the victory. McPherson also came up with a big shot down the stretch, knocking down a shot from behind the arc with 28 seconds to play to pull Valpo back within three points and set the stage to force overtime.
LOYD LAYS IT IN: Coming off the bench Thursday night, junior guard Jarryd Loyd provided a fast-paced spark on both ends of the court for the Crusaders. Loyd scored 10 points in 26 minutes for Valpo, with three of his four baskets coming off of fast breaks that he was responsible for: one on a defensive rebound and two on steals. His last basket was by far his biggest, as he picked Adam Liberty's pocket with under a minute to play and successfully converted a give-and-go with Jake Diebler to cut ORU's lead to four.
SEASON TO DATE: Centenary has dropped six straight games after beginning the season with a modest 7-10 record. The Gents picked up a conference win when they defeated Western Illinois in Shreveport, 64-58, but fell to the Leathernecks in Macomb in their most recent outing, 45-42. The loss Thursday was the fourth time in seven conference defeats that the Gents fell by five or fewer points.
HAMILTON RETURNS STRONG: Sophomore guard Tyrone Hamilton has put up stellar numbers this season after missing the entire 2005-06 campaign due to injury. Hamilton leads the Gents in scoring (16.3 ppg), assists (3.3 apg), minutes (32.7 mpg), and 3-pointers made (2.0 per game). He ranks fifth in the Mid-Con in both assists and 3-pointers and third in scoring, while also ranking tenth in free throw percentage (.785).