SOUTHERN UTAH (16-11, 6-6) at VALPARAISO (14-14, 7-5)
ATHLETICS-RECREATION CENTER - VALPARAISO, IND.
FEBRUARY 22, 2007 - 7:05 p.m.
TODAY'S MATCHUP: Valparaiso hosts Southern Utah tonight in the opener of a two-game homestand to close out the regular season. The Thunderbirds defeated the Crusaders in their previous meeting earlier this year in Cedar City, 76-60. Valpo owns a 15-7 edge in the all-time series, and has won all nine games played in the series at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
LAST TIME OUT: Valparaiso held a six-point lead late in Saturday's game at Western Michigan, but the Broncos fought back to force overtime and went on to down the Crusaders in Kalamazoo, Mich., 89-80. The Crusaders grabbed their largest lead of the ballgame at seven with 3:38 to play after an Urule Igbavboa 3-point play, but the Broncos utilized free throw opportunities down the stretch to close the gap and force overtime. Valpo led just over a minute into the extra session on an Igbavboa layup, but the Broncos scored the next 12 points to secure the victory. Igbavboa paced the Crusaders with a career-high 21 points, including hitting 9-of-10 free throws, while Samuel Haanpaa added 19 points off the bench. Also coming off the bench, Jarryd Loyd recorded a career-high 14 points to go along with five rebounds and four assists.
LAST MEETING: Valparaiso placed three players in double figures and was within six points with 2:26 to play, but Southern Utah pulled away late for a 76-60 victory January 27 in Cedar City, Utah. The Crusaders found themselves down 13 with 5:05 left, but Brandon McPherson hit two triples over the next 1:16 to pull Valpo within seven points. Jarryd Loyd had a chance to cut the lead to five at the free throw line, but could only hit one attempt from the charity stripe, and six was as close as Valpo could get. McPherson led the Crusaders with 17 points, but connected on just 2-of-8 attempts from behind the arc. Samuel Haanpaa added 13 points and six rebounds, while Shawn Huff scored 12 points.
ON THE AIR: Today's game, like every game this season, can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network, a three-station entity carrying Crusader athletics all over Northwest Indiana, and online at www.valpo.edu/athletics. Originating from WVUR, 95.1 FM in Valparaiso, the Valpo Sports Radio Network also includes WEFM, 95.9 FM in Michigan City and WAKE, 1500 AM in Valparaiso. Veteran broadcaster Todd Ickow returns for his 16th season on play-by-play, while WVUR's Mike Haase will handle the color commentary.
LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SEEDS UP FOR GRABS: With just two games left in the conference slate, Valparaiso can finish anywhere from second to fifth place in the Mid-Con standings. If the Crusaders win out, they guarantee themselves at least the third seed in the conference tournament, and can move up to the second seed if Oakland loses both its games. If Valpo loses either or both of its remaining contests, the Crusaders are in danger of falling into the 4-5 first-round game, which would set up a likely matchup with Oral Roberts in the semifinals, as the Golden Eagles clinched the league title with Oakland's loss at Southern Utah on Saturday.
MID-CON DOMINANCE: With last Thursday's win over fellow Mid-Con charter member Western Illinois, Valparaiso assured itself of at least a .500 record in league play for the 14th consecutive season. The Crusaders have finished third or better in the league in 13 of those 14 seasons, including a run of nine regular-season championships over a 10-year span. Valpo also has captured a total of eight Mid-Con tournament championships during its tenure in the league, and has 199 conference wins since the league's inception in 1982.
HOME SWEET ARC: Two weeks ago, Valparaiso recorded its 200th all-time victory at the Athletics-Recreation Center. The Crusaders currently own a 201-92 (.686) victory at their home arena since the ARC opened prior to the 1984-1985 campaign. This season marks the 15th consecutive year that Valpo will finish with a home record better than .500, as the Crusaders are 7-3 at home this year. Since the start of the 1993-1994 campaign, the Crusaders own an incredible 147-27 (.845) record in the ARC. That record includes an undefeated home slate in the 1994-1995 season (14-0), and a 20-game home winning streak spanning the 2001-2002 and 2002-2003 campaigns.
BALANCED ATTACK: The 2006-07 Crusader squad has truly been one of balance, as four Valpo players are averaging double-figure scoring outputs this year. Freshman Samuel Haanpaa moved back into the leading scorer role after his 18-point game last Thursday, as he is averaging 11.9 ppg. Right behind him are sophomores Urule Igbavboa and Brandon McPherson, who both are putting up 11.4 ppg. Junior Shawn Huff is just fourth on the team in scoring despite averaging 11.0 ppg. Huff has paced Valpo in scoring eight times on the season, while Igbavboa and McPherson have led the Crusaders seven times apiece. Haanpaa has led Valpo on six occasions.
PRESEASON POLL PLACES VALPO FOURTH: The Crusaders received 156 points in the Mid-Continent Conference's preseason polling of coaches, sports information directors, and selected media members, placing them fourth out of the league's eight teams. Projected league champs Oral Roberts registered 260 points. IUPUI and UMKC are projected second and third, respectively, while Oakland, Western Illinois, Southern Utah, and Centenary round out the fifth through eighth spots.
CRUSADER ALUMNI RETURN TO THE BENCH: Valpo head coach Dr. Homer Drew has always found places for former players as assistant coaches, and this year is no exception. Bryce Drew is back for his second year on the bench, having been promoted to the title of associate head coach during the offseason. Jason Hawkins, who served as the director of basketball operations during the 2003-04 campaign, returns for his first year as an assistant coach, while Tarrance Price, who played for Valpo from 1998-2000, returns as the director of basketball operations.
A LOT OF HANDS TO SHAKE: Pregame captains meetings at center court will be crowded on Valpo's side this year, as five Crusaders have been designated as captains by Coach Drew. Senior Moussa Mbaye, juniors Shawn Huff and Jarryd Loyd, and sophomores Jake Diebler and Brandon McPherson will share this year's captaincy.
SIXTH MAN EXTRAORDINAIRE: The last time freshman guard Samuel Haanpaa came off the bench for Valpo (Jan. 11 vs. Oakland), he scored 15 points on five 3-pointers and grabbed eight rebounds. Coming off of an illness, Haanpaa became Valpo's sixth man last week, and responded to the role extremely well. The freshman hit three triples on his way to a team-best 18 points against Western Illinois, and knocked down four more treys at Western Michigan, ending the game with 19 points. Haanpaa has 65 3-pointers on the season, tenth-best in a single season in Valpo history and just 13 behind Bryce Drew's freshman record of 78. He is hitting 45.1% of his 3-pointers on the season, good for 11th in the nation. Haanpaa's clip from behind the arc is also among the top-10 single-season performances in Crusader history, and with six more attempts, he will become Valpo's career 3-point percentage leader.
U BOUNCES BACK: Sophomore forward Urule Igbavboa was hampered by injury in Valpo's road games two weekends ago against IUPUI and Oakland, but bounced back in a big way last weekend. Igbavboa registered his ninth double-figure rebounding effort of the season Thursday against Western Illinois, pulling down 10 rebounds to go along with nine points. He followed on Saturday with a career-high on the offensive end, scoring 21 points, including 9-of-10 from the free throw line, and pulling down a team-best nine rebounds. Igbavboa ranks second in the league with seven double-doubles on the season, and remains the only Mid-Con player to record a triple-double this year with his 18-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist effort at Chicago State.
LOYD PUTTING IT TOGETHER: Junior guard Jarryd Loyd had two of his best games of the season last week for the Crusaders. On Thursday, Loyd tallied six points, four rebounds, six assists and two steals in Valpo's win over Western Illinois. Saturday, Loyd came off the bench to carry the Crusaders to the brink of victory at Western Michigan, pouring in a career-high 14 points to go along with five rebounds and four assists. The junior is averaging 6.0 points per game off the bench this year, and has 253 career assists, 14th in Crusader history.
MOUSSA HAS CAREER NIGHT: Crusader senior center Moussa Mbaye had never scored in double figures in 98 career games before last Thursday's contest against Western Illinois. But the senior finally broke the double-digit barrier against the Leathernecks, hitting four shots from the field and both of his free throws for 10 points. Valpo's lone senior, Mbaye has seen action in 25 games this year, including 13 starts, and is averaging 3.4 points and 4.0 rebounds per game.
SEASON TO DATE: Southern Utah comes into tonight's game with a 16-11 overall record, including wins earlier this year over Utah and Idaho (twice). The Thunderbirds sit at 6-6 in Mid-Con action, but are just 1-4 away from Cedar City on the season in league action. SUU is coming off an exciting weekend, as both of its games last week were decided in the final seconds of overtime. The Thunderbirds lost a heartbreaker Thursday to IUPUI, 75-74, when Austin Montgomery made a layup with 1.7 seconds to play in the extra session. But SUU more than made up for it Saturday with a 87-85 overtime win over Oakland on an off-balance, one-handed 3-pointer launched by Justin Allen at the buzzer as he was falling out of bounds.
BARNES, STEVE BARNES: Senior guard Steve Barnes has been the T-Birds' leader this year. The honorable-mention All Mid-Con selection in 2005 has stepped up his game this year, leading SUU with 14.1 points and 6.0 assists per game while hitting 41.1% of his 3-point attempts and 89.3% of his free throw attempts. Barnes leads the conference in assists and free throw percentage, and is 13th in the nation in assists per game.