Official Athletic Site of the Valparaiso University Crusaders
Valpo Ready to Take On Defending National Champs Sunday
Michael Rogers and the Crusaders are taking on North Carolina for a third straight year. (Ray Acevedo)
Michael Rogers and the Crusaders are taking on North Carolina for a third straight year. (Ray Acevedo)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Valparaiso at #6/4 North Carolina - Sunday, Nov. 15 - 3 p.m. CST

The Matchup: Valparaiso takes aim at the defending national champions on Sunday afternoon, as for the third straight year, the Crusaders face off against #6/4 North Carolina.  Valpo is taking on the Tar Heels for the second time in Chapel Hill after playing UNC last year in Chicago.

Last Time Out: Ball State jumped out to a quick 14-3 lead Friday evening in Muncie and led start to finish, eventually defeating the Crusaders in their season opener, 88-78.  The Cardinals extended their lead to as many as 14 points in the first half before Valpo rallied back to trail just 42-38 at halftime.  The Crusaders cut the deficit to just one point early in the second half, but could never forge a tie or take the lead, and Ball State eventually went on a 11-2 run over a four-minute span starting with just under nine minutes to play to ice the game.  Newcomers Brandon Wood and Cory Johnson each surpassed 20 points on the night, scoring 25 and 21, respectively.

Series History: Valpo faced UNC for the first time in the 2007-08 season and also played the Tar Heels last year, with UNC coming out victorious in both games.  The last meeting came on Dec. 20, 2008 at the United Center, a game which saw Valpo get out to a 12-3 lead before North Carolina eventually claimed an 85-63 victory.  Urule Igbavboa and Michael Rogers paced the Crusaders with 16 points apiece.

Following the Crusaders:  Today’s game can be seen live nationwide on Fox Sports South (DirecTV channel 646), with Bob Rathbun and Mike Gminski on the call.  It can also be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network (WAKE, 1500 AM, Valparaiso; WEFM, 95.9 FM, Michigan City; WLPR, 89.1 FM, Lowell).  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 radio station, will also be broadcasting the game live over its airwaves, with David Schroeder and Chris Kleinhans-Schulz calling the action.  Live audio of the VSRN call, as well as a live stats link, will be available at www.valpoathletics.com.

Going for 20+: Sophomore Brandon Wood and junior Cory Johnson both surpassed 20 points in Valpo’s season opener Friday, as Wood dropped 25 points and Johnson scored 21 points.  It was the first time multiple Crusaders had scored 20+ points in the same game since Feb. 23, 2008, when Shawn Huff scored 32 points and Urule Igbavboa tallied 22 points in a 99-94 double-overtime victory over Miami (Ohio).

Newcomers Playing Minutes: Both Wood and Johnson were appearing in their first regular season contest as a Crusader on Friday, two of six Crusaders to make their Valpo debuts against Ball State.  Valpo’s newcomers ended up playing 58% of the total team minutes against the Cardinals.

Helping Hands: Valpo was extremely efficient with the basketball as a team in their season debut Friday, handing out 18 assists on 27 made field goals while committing just nine turnovers.  The 18 assists was more than the Crusaders had in all but one game last year against D-1 competition, while Valpo also surpassed a 2-to-1 assist/turnover ratio just once last season.

Connecting from the Line: Last year’s Crusader team struggled from the free throw line, hitting just 61.2% of its free throw attempts on the season.  But Valpo has looked much more comfortable at the stripe this season, hitting 23-of-30 (76.7%) from the foul line in its exhibition game against Indianapolis and connecting on 17-of-24 (70.8%) attempts at Ball State.

Looking at the Schedule:
This year’s Crusaders will be extremely battle-tested prior to hitting the heart of Horizon League play.  Valpo plays today at #6/4 North Carolina, the first of four top-10 squads that the Crusaders take on in early-season action.  One week later, it’s #2/2 Michigan State that the Crusaders travel to take on.  The one weekend of Horizon League play in early December sees Valpo play at #11/10 Butler, while four days later, there’s another road game at #7/7 Purdue.  In all, of the Crusaders’ first 13 games, eight are true road games with a pair of neutral-site contests as well.

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.

Tabbed Eighth:
The Crusader men’s basketball team has been picked to finish eighth in the Horizon League for the 2009-2010 season, according to polling of the league’s head coaches, sports information directors and media members.  Butler has been tabbed the preseason favorite with 43 of the possible 46 first-place votes.  Wright State was picked second with defending tournament champion Cleveland State projected third.  Milwaukee, Green Bay, Detroit and Youngstown State were picked fourth through seventh, respectively, while UIC and Loyola rounded out the polling.

Wood Makes an Immediate Impact: Redshirt sophomore guard Brandon Wood was a huge part of Valpo staying in Friday night’s game at Ball State.  Wood, making his Crusader debut, put up 17 points in the final ten minutes of the first half as Valpo sliced a 14-point deficit to just four at the break.  For the game, Wood finished with a game-high 25 points, including three 3-pointers and a perfect 4-of-4 effort from the free throw line.  The 25 points marked the most by a Crusader in their Valpo debut since Lubos Barton dropped 27 points on South Carolina on Nov. 7, 1998.

Johnson Takes Charge Inside:
Redshirt junior forward Cory Johnson also had a big game in his Crusader debut.  Playing a competitive game for the first time in nearly two years after sitting out last year as a transfer from Iowa State, Johnson was extremely efficient with his field goal attempts Friday, connecting on 9-of-14 shots from the field en route to 21 points.  Johnson also tied for game-high honors by pulling down nine rebounds and also came up with a game-best three steals.

McPherson Back Running the Point:
Fifth-year senior guard Brandon McPherson missed all but five games this year after offseason surgery kept him sidelined, but McPherson returned with a typical solid effort on Friday night.  He went 6-of-7 from the foul line on his way to reaching double figures with 11 points, while also handing out a game-high six assists with just one turnover.  McPherson now ranks 17th in Crusader history with 221 career assists and is just four assists shy of moving up a spot.

Freshmen Seeing Action:
A pair of Crusader freshman guards played more than half the game on Friday night.  Tommy Kurth took the court for 21 minutes and stood out running the Valpo offense, dishing out five assists without committing a turnover.  Matt Kenney played 20 minutes on Friday and chipped in two points, two rebounds and two assists.

Quickly:
Junior guard Howard Little also reached double figures on Friday, connecting on 4-of-6 from the field for ten points ... Little and Kurth both came up with a pair of steals as the Crusaders totaled 12 thefts on the night ... Sunday’s game marks the seventh straight year that Valpo has played an ACC school (Duke 2003-04, 04-05, 05-06; North Carolina St. 06-07; North Carolina 07-08, 08-09, 09-10).

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