Valparaiso at Cleveland State - Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010 - 6 p.m. CST
The Matchup: Valparaiso (13-13, 8-6 Horizon) continues a stretch of five Horizon League games in a ten-day span on Thursday evening, hitting the road to take on Cleveland State (12-12, 8-4 Horizon). The Crusaders and the Vikings enter the game as two of the league’s hottest squads, as Valpo has won seven of its last nine and CSU has won five in a row and eight of its last ten.
Last Time Out: A relatively low-scoring tied game at halftime turned into a shootout in the second half Monday evening at the ARC, with Valparaiso taking the lead for good with 13 minutes to go en route to an 83-82 victory over UIC in Horizon League action. Ryan Broekhoff and Brandon Wood tied for team-high honors Monday with 18 points, while the former also pulled down nine rebounds. Brandon McPherson added 15 points, five rebounds and five assists, while Cory Johnson chipped in 11 points before fouling out. Valpo shot at a 55.6% (30-of-54) clip for the game, including 40% (10-of-25) from behind the arc, but also committed 18 turnovers on the night.
Series History: Cleveland State holds a 26-8 advantage in the all-time series over the Crusaders, including a 5-1 mark since Valpo joined the Horizon League, but the Crusaders earned the victory in the two teams’ last meeting, a 78-71 win at the ARC on Jan. 16. Four Crusaders finished the game in double figures in the scoring column, led by Brandon McPherson, who hit 8-of-11 from the floor for a game-high 22 points while also scoring his 1,000th career point during the game. Brandon Wood added 17 points, while Cory Johnson finished with 15 points. Ryan Broekhoff came up with an outstanding effort off the bench, going for 13 points, a team-high eight rebounds, three assists and three blocks in 23 minutes of action.
Following the Crusaders: Thursday’s game can 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 14 league contests, Valpo has faced single-digit games 11 times already, including each of the last fiver 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 11 single-digit games the Crusaders have contested in league play, eight 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 five games (@UWM, @GB, WSU, UDM, UIC) are included among the aforementioned eight.
Offense Produces: The Crusader offense has continued to be the key to the team’s resurgence in the win/loss column these past few weeks. Valpo, which boasts the top scoring offense in the Horizon League at 72.7 PPG, posted 83 points against UIC on Monday and has now scored 70 or more points in each of its last six games and eight of the last nine outings after failing to reach the plateau in its first five league games.
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.
What a Difference a Year Makes: Just one year ago, the Crusaders sat at just 6-19 overall and 3-10 in league play, fighting to stay out of the bottom of the league standings. This year, however, Valpo has turned things around. The Crusaders already own 13 wins this year, four more than they ended last season with, and have already won eight league contests, three more wins than at the end of the 2008-09 campaign. In addition, Valpo has also clinched a higher league finish than last year and is just two wins shy of setting a new team high for wins in Horizon League play.
Tough Start...: With the Crusaders at 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.
...Turns Into Solid Season: After starting the season just 3-6 and then 6-11, Valpo has already recovered to the .500 mark overall at 13-13. Likewise, the Crusaders started the Horizon League slate 1-4 and now sit at 8-6 in league action. The Crusaders averaged just 70.5 PPG in the opening 6-11 stretch, but are up to 76.9 PPG in the last nine games. Over this most recent stretch, Valpo is holding its opponents to lower efficiency from the floor (40.9% FG; 46.7% over first 17 games), is getting to the foul line nearly as often (2 fewer FTA/game; 6.7 fewer/game over first 17 games) and has owned the boards (+2.1 rebounding margin; -2.0 over first 17 games).
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 18.5 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 16th time this year, posting 18 points in Valpo’s win over UIC.
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 nine 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 solo ninth place last time out with 123 games played. McPherson is just four games shy of matching and five 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 two 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 15-of-24 from deep over the last 12 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. Johnson has scored in double figures six straight times and 23 times this year after posting 11 points last time out in Valpo’s win over UIC.
Broekhoff Grabs Boards: Freshman Ryan Broekhoff has been a big part of Valpo’s success in its most recent stretch of seven wins in nine games. Broekhoff has scored in double figures four times and pulled down ten or more rebounds twice, averaging 9.6 PPG and 7.4 RPG over the schedule of games starting with the home win over Youngstown State. Most recently, Broekhoff tied for team-high scoring honors with 18 points and also paced the Crusaders with nine rebounds in the win over UIC.
Quickly: Freshman Matt Kenney set a new season high with six rebounds against UIC ... McPherson also matched his season-best against the Flames with five boards ... for the 14th time this year, the Crusaders connected on at least 40% of their 3-point attempts against UIC ... Valpo has shot 55% or better from the field five times this year ... in addition to scoring offense, Valpo leads the league overall in FG% (.471), assists (14.9/game) and 3-pointers (7.7/game), and in league play only in 3-point% (.382), assists (14.3/game) and 3-pointers (7.8/game).