Valparaiso (3-5) at #5/5 Purdue (7-0) - Wednesday, Dec. 9 - 6 p.m. CST
The Matchup: Valparaiso concludes its challenging early-season slate of ranked foes with a trip to West Lafayette to face #5/5 Purdue on Wednesday evening. Less than a month into the season, the Boilermakers will be the fourth top-25 team the Crusaders have faced and the third inside the top-five at game time.
Last Time Out: An 11-0 run early in the second half was too much for Valparaiso to overcome Saturday evening in its Horizon League opener, as the Crusaders dropped an 84-67 decision to #23/20 Butler in Indianapolis, Ind. The second half started with the Crusaders trailing by just six points at 38-32, but Butler exploded out of halftime with a quick 7-2 spurt over the first 1:18 of the half. Valpo responded with six straight points to pull within five with 16:46 remaining, but the Bulldogs’ aforementioned run gave them a double-digit lead that they would not relinquish. Cory Johnson led the Crusaders with 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting, as well as a team-high five rebounds. Howard Little came off the bench with 14 points and Mike Rogers added 12 as well. Gordon Hayward led five Butler players in double figures with 18 points.
Series History: Valpo and Purdue have met on the hardwood on 14 occasions, with the Boilermakers holding a 12-2 advantage in the all-time series. Last year, the two teams met in West Lafeyette on Dec. 28, a game in which #10/15 Purdue emerged victorious by a 59-45 count. The Crusaders led for a good portion of the first half and trailed by just two at halftime, but the Boilermakers connected on four of their first five 3-point attempts in the second stanza and the Crusaders got no closer than six the rest of the way. Jake Diebler and Urule Igbavboa tied for team-high scoring honors on the game with 13 points apiece, while Little pitched in eight points and also pulled down a team-high ten rebounds.
Following the Crusaders: Wednesday’s game will be televised live nationwide on the Big Ten Network, Valpo’s second appearance on the BTN this season, with Wayne Larrivee and Bob Ford on the call. As always, the contest 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 station, will also be broadcasting the game over its airwaves. Links for the VSRN audio, as well as live statistics, can be found at www.valpoathletics.com.
Ranked Foes Nothing New: Wednesday’s game at Purdue will mark Valpo’s fourth meeting with a nationally-ranked team this season, following games against #6/4 North Carolina, #2/2 Michigan State and #23/20 Butler. The game against the Boilermakers is the 14th versus a top-25 foe in the last four years as well, as coach Homer Drew’s Crusader squads played three games against ranked teams in 2006-07 and 2007-08 before playing four such games last season.
Division I Scoring Record: Since Valparaiso made its move to the Division I ranks in the late 1970’s, the Crusaders have had a number of players who could fill up the scoring column. Names like Lubos Barton, David Redmon, Casey Schmidt, Tracy Gipson, Raitis Grafs, Dan Oppland and of course Bryce Drew reside atop the Crusaders’ career points and points per game charts. None of them, however, have scored as many points in a single game as Brandon Wood did Nov. 27 at Georgia Southern. Wood connected on 13-of-18 from the floor, including three 3-pointers, and 10-of-12 from the foul line to score a Valpo Division I record 39 points, also setting a new Legends Classic single-game scoring mark.
Big Individual Efforts: In the past three seasons combined, Valpo has had 25-point scoring explosions from a player just six times. Through eight games this year, however, the Crusaders have had individuals lighting up the scoreboard, as Valpo has already received five efforts of at least 25 points from three different players. Wood scored 25 at Ball State and 30 at #6/4 North Carolina to go along with his 39-point outburst at GSU, while Brandon McPherson dropped on 25 on IU-South Bend and, most recently, Cory Johnson scored 26 against Arkansas-Fort Smith. Entering this season, the last time the Crusaders had a 25-point scorer in three consecutive games (as Wood and McPherson did in the season’s first three 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.
Offense Leads the Way: Thanks to scoring at least 77 points in five of their first eight games this year, the Crusaders lead the Horizon League in scoring offense (75.9 ppg) and boast two of the league’s top four scorers in Brandon Wood and Cory Johnson. However, on the flip side, the Crusader defense currently ranks last in the league in scoring defense (81.1 ppg).
Handling the Basketball: Valpo’s success on offense early this year has been in large part due to sharing the basketball and not turning it over. The Crusaders lead the league in assists (16.8/game), assisting on 62% of their made baskets, and are averaging just 13.1 turnovers/game. Valpo’s assist/turnover ratio of 1.28 ranks atop the league, with just one other league school having a ratio above 1.00, and ranks among the top-40 nationally.
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.
BWood Gets Buckets: Redshirt sophomore guard Brandon Wood has quickly etched his name among the most talented scorers to wear a Valpo uniform. Wood broke the Crusaders’ Division I single-game scoring record on Nov. 27, scoring 39 points in a winning effort over Georgia Southern. He went on to earn Legends Classic Statesboro Subregional All-Tournament accolades after averaging 23.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game while shooting 60% over the three games. On the season, Wood leads all Horizon League players with 21.0 PPG, which ranks among the top-30 nationally, and has increased his average to 24.0 PPG against Division I opposition.
Joining an Elite Group: Wood’s 39-point effort at GSU was his second 30+ point output of the year, joining a 30-point show at North Carolina. The sophomore is just the third Crusader in the last 15 years to score 30 or more points multiple times in his career, joining Bryce Drew (5x) and Dan Oppland (2x), and needed just five games into his Crusader career to accomplish the feat.
Johnson Keeps Producing: Redshirt junior Cory Johnson has been a consistent force in the middle so far for the Crusaders, pacing Valpo on the glass in six games and reaching double figures in scoring on seven occasions. Johnson has been Valpo’s high scorer each of the last two outings, going for 26 against Arkansas-Fort Smith and 17 against #23/20 Butler. On the year, he is averaging 16.0 PPG, fourth in the Horizon League, and 6.9 RPG, fifth-best among league players, while holding the league’s second-best field goal percentage at .549.
McPherson Connects From Downtown: Fifth year senior Brandon McPherson has always been among the Crusaders’ most potent threats from behind the 3-point line, but has been closer to unconscious than normal from deep this year, hitting 20-of-38 from behind the arc. His 3-point percentage of .526 is third in the Horizon League and is a large reason for his average of 13.1 PPG this year. McPherson, who also ranks among the league’s top free throw shooters with an .840 mark from the charity stripe, has also done a solid job handling the ball as the Crusaders’ point guard, carrying a 1.42 assist/turnover ratio into Wednesday’s action.
Juniors Step Up Off the Bench: With Wood and McPherson held to a combined 13 points by Butler on Saturday, the Crusaders needed other options to step up and fill the scoring column, and a pair of juniors came off the bench to do so. Michael Rogers and Howard Little, Valpo’s second and third-leading scorers a season ago, were averaging just a combined 10.4 PPG entering Saturday, but Rogers stepped up with 12 points, including three first-half 3-pointers, while Little scored 14 points to keep the Crusader offense rolling. It was Rogers’ first double-figure scoring output of the year after 15 such outings last year, while Little reached double figures for the fourth time this year.
Quickly: Valpo connected on better than 50% of its field goal attempts for the fourth time this year at Butler ... the Crusaders also hit at above 40% from behind the arc for the fourth time as well ... Wood failed to reach double figures in scoring for the first time this year against the Bulldogs ... Valpo announced Wednesday that Erik Buggs would sit out the remainder of the season in anticipation of applying for a Medical Hardship Waiver after the season’s conclusion.