Valpo Travels to Take On Nation's #2 Team Sunday
Brandon Wood leads the Horizon League with 22.3 points per game. (Sabrina Short)
Valpo Travels to Take On Nation's #2 Team Sunday
Friday, November 20, 2009

Valparaiso at #2/2 Michigan State - Sunday, Nov. 22 - 11 a.m. CST

The Matchup: Valparaiso returns to action on Sunday against another squad in the nation’s top echelon, traveling to East Lansing, Mich. to face defending national runner-up #2/2 Michigan State.  Sunday’s game is the first of four the Crusaders will play as part of the Legends Classic.

Last Time Out: Fifth-year senior guard Brandon McPherson  scored 14 straight points to start a 21-0 Valparaiso run in the second half, turning a nine-point deficit into a 12-point lead as the Crusaders went on to a 78-56 victory at the Athletics-Recreation Center Thursday evening over IU-South Bend.  McPherson ended the night with a career-high 25 points, sparking the Crusaders as they outscored IUSB over the last 15 minutes by a 44-13 margin.

Series History: The Crusaders and Spartans have met up just four times in program history, three of which came in the 1920s when MSU was known as Michigan Agriculuture.  Michigan State leads the series 3-1, including a 65-38 victory as a 1-seed in the first round of the 2000 NCAA Tournament over the 16th-seeded Crusaders.  Mateen Cleaves led all players with 15 points and eight assists for the Spartans, while Morris Peterson added 12 points.  For Valpo, Lubos Barton led the way with 13 points and seven rebounds and Raitis Grafs ripped down a team-high eight rebounds.

Following the Crusaders:  Sunday’s game can be seen live on the Big Ten Network, one of two times Valpo will appear on the BTN this year and one of at least five national television appearances for the Crusaders.  The game, as always, can also 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 radio station, will also be broadcasting the game live.  Links for live audio of the VSRN broadcast, as well as live statistics, can be found at www.valpoathletics.com.

Dropping 25: The Crusader offense has been running at a high level so far in 2009-2010, scoring 77-78 points in all three of their games and receiving standout individual performances in all three games.  Brandon Wood scored 25 points against Ball State in the opener before registering 30 points at UNC, and last time out, Brandon McPherson tallied 25 points versus IU-South Bend.  Entering this season, the last time the Crusaders had a 25-point scorer in three consecutive games was Jan. 20-27, 1997, when Bryce Drew scored 34 at Oral Roberts and 38 against Western Illinois before Tony Vilcinskas dropped 28 on Northland.

Dual 20 Point Scorers: Wood’s efforts in the season’s first two games were joined by 21 points from Cory Johnson against Ball State and 20 points from McPherson at UNC.  Prior to this season, the last time two Crusaders had scored 20 or more in a regulation game was Dec. 22, 2006 against Charlotte, when McPherson scored 24 to go along with 21 points from Samuel Haanpaa.  The last time Valpo accomplished the feat in back-to-back games was Feb. 7 & 9, 2002, as Lubos Barton scored 24 points and Stalin Ortiz 21 points against Chicago State, followed two days later by 23 from Barton and 22 points from Milo Stovall against Southern Utah.

Newcomers All Over the Place: Johnson and Wood are just two of seven newcomers who have already seen action for the Crusaders this season.  The new additions to this year’s squad have accounted for over half of the minutes played in each of Valpo’s first three game, while registering 59.6% of the points scored and 53.3% of the rebounds grabbed so far this year.

Looking at the Schedule: This year’s Crusaders will be extremely battle-tested prior to hitting the heart of Horizon League play.  Valpo played last Sunday at #6/4 North Carolina, the first of four top-10 squads that the Crusaders take on in early-season action.  This weekend, 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.

McPherson Gets Hot at Right Time: Fifth year senior Brandon McPherson single-handedly pulled the Crusaders back into the lead on Thursday with 14 straight points of his own, turning a nine-point deficit into a five-point lead and sparking a 21-0 spurt.  McPherson scored 19 of his game-high and career-best 25 points in the second half, going 7-of-9 from the field and 5-of-6 from the 3-point line for the game.  Through three games, McPherson has clearly shown he’s back at full strength, averaging 18.7 ppg.  He is also closing in on 1,000 career points, as he enters Sunday’s game with 861 points over his five years at Valpo.

Wood Stands Out in First Weekend: Brandon Wood made his first regular season games as a Crusader standout efforts.  The redshirt sophomore dropped 25 points on Ball State in Valpo’s season opener, the most points by a Crusader in their debut since Lubos Barton scored 27 against South Carolina on Nov. 7, 1998.  Wood then one-upped himself, going for 30 points, including six 3-pointers, against North Carolina in the Smith Center on Sunday.  While he “only” scored 12 against IUSB, Wood still leads the league with an average of 22.3 ppg.  

More on Wood: The 55 points Wood combined for in his first two outings is the most by any Valpo player since Bryce Drew scored 59 in a two-game stretch Feb. 25 and Mar. 2, 1998.  Wood also became just the ninth Crusader in the last 15 years, dating back to the start of the 1994-95 season, to score 30 or more in a single game, joining Shawn Huff, Samuel Haanpaa, Dan Oppland (2x), Lubos Barton, Raitis Grafs, Bryce Drew (5x), Anthony Allison and Chris Ensminger.

Johnson Doubles Up: Redshirt junior Cory Johnson tallied the first double-double of his career against IUSB on Thursday, going for 16 points and 12 rebounds in the victory.  Johnson, who also scored 21 in Valpo’s opener against Ball State, is averaging 14.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game over Valpo’s first three contests, the latter mark ranking among the Horizon League leaders.

Quickly: Junior guard Howard Little reached double figures as well against IUSB, scoring 11 points for his second double-digit output of the season ... Little has now started 31 straight games for the Crusaders ... freshman guard Ryan Broekhoff earned his first career start Thursday against IUSB ... junior guard Michael Rogers came off the bench for just the sixth time since the beginning of the 2008-09 season, recording four points and six rebounds ... sophomore guard Erik Buggs did not play in the first half Thursday before starting and playing 15 minutes in the second half, tallying five points, three assists and two steals.