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Valpo Looks for Chicago Sweep Saturday Afternoon at Loyola
Head coach Homer Drew and the Crusaders look for their fourth win in a row Saturday. (Andy Keilen)
Head coach Homer Drew and the Crusaders look for their fourth win in a row Saturday. (Andy Keilen)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Valparaiso at Loyola - Saturday, January 23, 2010 - 3 p.m.

The Matchup: Valparaiso (9-11, 4-4 Horizon) looks to end the first half of Horizon League play above .500 in the league standings as the Crusaders carry a three-game winning streak into Loyola (12-6, 3-5 Horizon) on Saturday afternoon.

Last Time Out: Valparaiso utilized a stellar effort at the free throw stripe and a solid defensive performance Thursday evening to win on the road in Horizon League action, defeating UIC 64-58 in Chicago, just the Crusaders’ second victory all-time on the Flames’ home court.  Valpo hit just five second-half field goals and went over ten minutes without a basket, but never lost the lead thanks to 10-of-13 shooting from the foul line in that stretch, part of a 20-of-25 effort from the charity stripe in the second half.  Brandon Wood led four Crusaders in double figures with 16 points, while Howard Little matched his season high with 14 points off the bench.  Valpo outrebounded a Horizon League foe for the first time this year, holding a 41-33 advantage over the Flames thanks to 12 rebounds by Cory Johnson and nine from Ryan Broekhoff.

Series History: Loyola holds a 27-5 advantage in the all-time series over the Crusaders, a series that began in the late ‘40s.  Valpo is just 2-14 all-time at Loyola, with its last win on the road coming on Feb. 3, 1975.  But the Crusaders did capture the last meeting between the two schools, a dominating 71-47 win at the ARC on Feb. 13, 2009, Homer Drew’s 600th career victory.  Little had a game-high 17 points, while Michael Rogers registered a double-double with 12 points and ten rebounds.  Valpo hit at a 51.1% clip from the field for the game while holding the Ramblers to just 32.0% shooting.

Following the Crusaders:  Saturday’s game will be broadcast live throughout Chicagoland on Lakeshore Public Television, with live video also available online through the Horizon League Network and on ESPN360.  In addition, as always, the game can 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.  Links for VSRN audio, video and live statistics can be found at www.valpoathletics.com. 

How Did We Win?: The Crusaders won Thursday night despite some of its worst shooting numbers in recent history.  Valpo connected on just 32.1% of its field goal attempts, the worst since hitting 31.1% against IPFW on Dec. 10, 2008 and the worst effort in a victory since it hit at a 32.1% clip in a 62-53 win over Milwaukee on Feb. 12, 1994.  In addition, the Crusaders hit just 19.0% from behind the arc, their second-worst performance from downtown this year (Michigan State) and worst in a win since connecting on just 9.1% from deep against Maryland Eastern Shore on Nov. 23, 2007.

Oh, That’s How: Valpo’s win came thanks to strong efforts at the free throw line, on defense and in the rebounding column.  The Crusaders hit 26-of-34 (76.5%) from the foul line on the night, matching their season high for free throws made, and hit 80% (20-of-25) in the second half.  Defensively, Valpo allowed UIC to hit just 39.6% from the field and 28.6% from 3-point range and forced 15 turnovers, holding a 15-8 advantage in points off turnovers.  The Crusaders also finished the night with a 41-33 advantage in rebounds, including 19 offensive caroms, their best effort on the offensive glass since the aforementioned Maryland Eastern Shore game.

Connecting From Downtown: Despite Thursday’s struggles from downtown, the Crusaders are still easily the Horizon League’s best 3-point shooting team in league play thus far.  Valpo has connected on 54-139 (38.8%) attempts from behind the arc through seven league games, nearly two percentage points better than second-place Butler and over three percentage points above third-place Green Bay.  In fact, Valpo has made the same number of 3-pointers than its opponents in league play (54) despite taking 31 fewer attempts (139-170).

Explosive Scoring Performances: Last weekend saw Brandon McPherson posted a pair of 20+ scoring games in the Crusaders’ two victories, continuing a season-long trend of Valpo’s top-three scorers putting up big numbers.  McPherson (4), Cory Johnson (5) and Brandon Wood (9) have combined for 18 outings of 20 or more points this season, already more 20+ point games than the Crusaders have had in a single season since 2005-2006.  That year saw Valpo players combine for 23 performances of 20 or more points, led by 15 such games from Dan Oppland.

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.

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.

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 last Saturday afternoon with a leaner from the baseline midway through the first half in the victory over Cleveland State.  McPherson had struggled for a stretch of time prior to last weekend’s games, scoring just 6.1 PPG on 34.1% FG and 22.2% 3PT shooting in the seven games from Concordia through Wright State while not reaching double figures once.  But the senior has hit double figures three games in a row, leading all players against YSU with 22 points on 9-of-16 shooting and again pacing everybody versus CSU with 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting.  Thursday, he scored ten points and matched a season high with five rebounds.

Wood Scores in Bunches: 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.  Wood, who currently paces the Horizon League with 18.8 points/game and also ranks among the league’s best in 3-point percentage, also has reached at least 20 points on seven other occasions, including 20 points in Valpo’s win last Thursday over Youngstown State.  Most recently, Wood led all players with 16 points in the win over UIC.

Johnson Remains Steady in the Post: Redshirt junior forward Cory Johnson has been a model of consistency down low this year for a mainly perimeter-based Crusader team.  Despite not reaching double figures for the first time this calendar year against UIC, Johnson posted nine points and matched season highs with 12 rebounds and four assists.  The redshirt junior, who has scored in double figures in 17 of Valpo’s 20 games and has paced the Crusaders in rebounding 12 times, is fifth in the league in scoring, sixth in rebounding and second in field goal percentage.

Rowdy Grabs the Boards: Freshman guard Ryan Broekhoff has stepped up his game of late, especially when it comes to hitting the glass.  Broekhoff, who had a big all-around game last Saturday in the win over Cleveland State with 14 points, three assists and three blocked shots, matched his season best with eight boards against the Vikings, but surpassed that last time out at UIC with nine rebounds.  Over the last three games, the freshman is averaging 7.3 RPG.

Little Hits 500: Junior guard Howard Little matched his season high in the scoring column with 14 points off the bench Thursday at UIC, including a career-best seven made free throws.  His fifth make of the game from the charity stripe, which came with 10:51 to play, got the junior to 500 career points.  Little is the second Crusader to reach 500 points in the last four games, as Michael Rogers did it at Wright State on the 10th.

Quickly: Rogers was the fourth Crusader in double figures against UIC, scoring 11 points, his fourth double-digit output of the year ... after committing 20 or more fouls nine times in the season’s first 13 games, Valpo has committed less than 20 fouls in six of the last seven contests ... Johnson is one of just  two players in league-only play in the top-ten in both scoring and rebounding (Sirlester Martin - YSU).