UIC at Valparaiso - Monday, Feb. 8, 2010 - 7:05 p.m.
The Matchup: Valparaiso (12-13, 7-6 Horizon) closes out a stretch of three home games in five days with a rare Monday-evening showdown against UIC (6-17, 2-11 Horizon) as the Crusaders continue their fight for an upper-division finish in league play.
Last Time Out: Valparaiso ran out to a 19-point halftime lead over Detroit Saturday afternoon in Horizon League action at the ARC, and after the Titans took over the lead in the second half, the Crusaders rallied for a 74-70 victory to move into a tie with Detroit in the league standings. The Crusaders used a stellar defensive effort in the first half to earn the large lead at the break, holding the Titans to just 7-of-36 (19.4%) shooting from the floor in the opening 20 minutes. But Detroit responded with a massive 26-4 run over the opening 8:40 of the second half to reclaim the lead before an 8-0 Crusader run gave Valpo the lead back for good. Four of Valpo’s five starters finished the game in double figures, led by 18 points from Brandon Wood, who also came up with three steals. Michael Rogers scored a season-high 13 points, while Cory Johnson and Brandon McPherson each chipped in 12 points, the former also adding six rebounds and five assists.
Series History: UIC holds a 29-11 advantage in the all-time series over the Crusaders, but it was Valpo which came out on top in the two squads’ last meeting, a 64-58 victory in Chicago on Jan. 21. The Crusaders shot just 32.1% from the field and 19% from behind the arc in that outing, but won the game thanks to solid free throw shooting, rebounding and defense. Wood led four Crusaders in double figures with 16 points, while Howard Little matched his highest-scoring output of the season to that point with 14 points off the bench to go with four rebounds and three steals.
Following the Crusaders: Monday’s game can be seen throughout Chicagoland on Lakeshore Public Television, with Dick Harlan and Joe Arredondo on the call. As always, 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. The game can also be seen live online on the Horizon League Network. Links for the VSRN audio and HLN Video, as well as live statistics, can be found at www.valpoathletics.com.
League Play = Close Games: Valparaiso’s non-league slate this year featured just two single-digit decisions in 12 games, but once the Crusaders got to league play, the script flipped 180 degrees. Through 13 league contests, Valpo has faced single-digit games ten times already, including each of the last four outings. This league season has been similar in nature for the Crusaders to the 2007-2008 league campaign, Valpo’s first season as a Horizon League member, when 14 of its 18 games were decided by nine or fewer points.
A New Level of Drama: Of the ten single-digit games the Crusaders have contested in league play, seven of those games have been within one possession in the final 15 seconds. And if it seems that recently the games have been more nailbiting than usual, it’s because each of the last four games (@UWM, @GB, WSU, UDM) are included among the aforementioned seven.
Still Putting Up Points: Despite struggling to hit shots from behind the 3-point over the last two games (11-of-47, 23.4%), the Crusaders still surpassed 70 points against both Wright State and Detroit thanks to solid shooting inside the arc and from the free throw line. Valpo, which boasts the top scoring offense in the Horizon League at 72.3 PPG, has now scored 70 or more points in each of its last five games after reaching the plateau just twice in its first eight league games.
Back on Track at Home: With three of its final five league games at home, the Crusaders have a chance to move up the league standings thanks to their homecourt advantage, one of the most pronounced in the Horizon League. Valpo rebounded from a Thursday home loss to defeat Detroit on Saturday, improving its record to 7-2 at the ARC this year and 177-39 (.819) over the past 17 seasons. In addition, the Crusaders secured their 18th consecutive season above .500 at home with the victory over the Titans.
Rare Road Success: For the first time since Jan. 2006, Valparaiso found itself playing four consecutive true road games Jan. 21-31. But despite being away from home, the Crusaders excelled, winning three games and coming two seconds away from overtime in the other. It was the first time in Valpo’s D-I history it has won three games in a road trip of four or more consecutive true road games, and the first time since Feb. 2003 it won three true road games in a single road trip.
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.
Tough Start: With the Crusaders just one win shy of hitting the .500 mark for the first time this year, it’s worth noting the struggles Valpo faced early on this season. The Crusaders took on four teams ranked in the nation’s top-25 at the time of the game, all on the road, within the first nine games of the season, part of a stretch that saw Valpo play 10 of its first 13 games away from home. In addition, Valpo came into the year with the second-least experienced team in the league (based on Ken Pomeroy’s Experience statistic) and features three freshmen and two sophomores within the regular rotation.
Wood Leads the Way: Redshirt sophomore guard Brandon Wood has proven to be among the most prolific scorers the Crusaders have seen in their D-I history, scoring 30 or more points twice already to join Bryce Drew and Dan Oppland as the only players in the last 15 years to score 30 multiple times in a career, including a Valpo D-I record 39 at Georgia Southern earlier this year. Wood, who currently paces the Horizon League with 18.6 points/game and also ranks among the league’s best in 3-point and free throw shooting, also has reached at least 20 points on eight other occasions. Most recently, Wood led the Crusaders in scoring for the 15th time this year, posting 18 points in Valpo’s win over Detroit.
McPherson Back on Track: Fifth-year senior guard Brandon McPherson became the 29th player in Crusader basketball history to reach the 1,000 point milestone with a leaner from the baseline midway through the first half in the victory over Cleveland State Jan. 16. After failing to reach double figures in the seven-game stretch from Concordia through Wright State, McPherson has hit double figures in each of the last eight games, including a pair of 20+ point games in wins over YSU and CSU. The senior is moving up a bunch of Valpo career charts, most notably the career games played list, where he moved into a tie for ninth place with Dan Oppland last time out with 122 games playd. McPherson is just five games shy of matching and six games away from breaking Raitis Grafs’ program record for games played in a career.
Johnson Showcases His Versatility: Redshirt junior forward Cory Johnson has made himself known as one of the league’s premier post threats, one of just three league players that rank in the top-ten in both scoring and rebounding. But Johnson has stepped out behind the arc over the last month and showcased his shooting ability, as after going 0-of-4 over the season’s first 15 games from downtown, he is 14-of-23 from deep over the last 11 contests. None of his triples were bigger than his third one on Jan. 31 at Green Bay, which gave Valpo the lead for good in the win and capped a 20-point day. Last time out, Johnson matched his career high with five assists while also posting 12 points and six rebounds in Valpo’s win over Detroit.
Broekhoff Grabs Boards: Freshman Ryan Broekhoff has struggled with his shot over the last two games, hitting just 1-of-11 from 3-point range, but has more than made up for it with his effort on the boards. The player they call ‘Rowdy’ set a new career best with 13 rebounds Thursday against Wright St., and followed with 11 more caroms last time out versus Detroit. Over the last seven games, the freshman is pacing the Crusader effort on the boards with 7.6 rebounds/game.
Rogers Steps Up: Junior Michael Rogers had scored just ten points combined over Valpo’s last four games and was held scoreless for the first 19+ minutes against Detroit Saturday. But after being on the receiving end of an alley-oop in the final minute of the first half, Rogers exploded in the second half, hitting big shot after big shot to end the game with a season-best 13 points. The junior has quietly been one of the league’s best shooters from behind the arc in league play, ranking sixth at 42.9%.
Quickly: Johnson ranks 13th nationally in field goal pct. (.576) ... freshman Matt Kenney registered a Valpo season-best four blocked shots Saturday ... the Crusaders matched a season high with six rejections while Detroit, which entered the game as the league’s best shot-blocking team, did not block a shot ... each of the nine players who took the court Saturday for Valpo scored at least two points.