Crusaders Look to Win Second Straight Thursday at WIU
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
VALPARAISO (7-10, 2-2) at WESTERN ILLINOIS (4-14, 0-4)
JANUARY 18, 2007 - 7 p.m.

The Crusaders look to win back-to-back conference games Thursday as they head to Macomb, Ill. to take on fellow Mid-Con charter member Western Illinois. Valpo is coming off of a weekend split last week, losing to Oakland and defeating IUPUI, while Western Illinois enters the contest on an eight-game losing streak. The Crusaders hold a 32-23 edge in the all-time series with the Leathernecks, and have lost just once at Western Hall in the last seven seasons.

LAST TIME OUT: Trailing by four at halftime, Valparaiso scored 20 of the first 27 points in the second half and never looked back, defeating IUPUI Saturday night 69-55 at the Athletics-Recreation Center. The Crusaders used three separate runs of 7-0, 13-4, and 14-1 in the second half to overcome a 32-28 halftime deficit. Samuel Haanpaa led three Crusaders in double figures with 19 points, while also pulling down a game-high seven rebounds. Haanpaa nailed five triples for the second consecutive game. Joining him in double digits were McPherson, who boasted three triples on his way to 13 points, and Igbavboa, who added 12 points and six rebounds.

LAST MEETING: A late 9-0 Valpo run broke open a close game and carried the Crusaders to a 76-64 win over Western Illinois February 11, 2006 at the Athletics-Recreation Center. David Jackson's three-pointer pulled Western Illinois within one at 60-59 with 3:43 left, but the next 1:38 was all Valpo. Ron Howard started it off with a layup under the basket and put the Crusaders ahead 65-59 on a triple with 2:35 to go. After a miss on the Leatherneck end, Howard grabbed a defensive rebound and found Dan Oppland in transition for two more points. Seth Colclasure then made a steal off the inbounds pass, was fouled, and drained two free throws to extend the Crusader lead to 10. Oppland led Valpo with 16 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 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.

ONE FINAL GO-ROUND: Today's matchup pairs the only two Mid-Continent Conference teams [Valparaiso and Western Illinois] to be members of the Mid-Con since its inception as the AMCU in 1982-83. The Crusaders have been the league's most dominant program over the past decade plus, winning at least eight games in conference play in each of the last 13 seasons, including at least 10 league wins in 12 of those years. Valpo has also captured nine Mid-Con regular season crowns and eight Mid-Con tournament championships during its tenure in the league.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER: Valparaiso played one of its most well-rounded games of the season in defeating IUPUI last Saturday. The Crusaders shot the ball at nearly a 50% clip from the field, including a season-best 55% (11-of-20) from behind the arc. The accuracy was even better in the second half, as Valpo came back from a four-point deficit behind a 66.7% shooting performance from the floor while holding the Jaguars to just 33.3% shooting in the second half. The Crusaders also set a season-low for turnovers with 10, while dishing out 15 assists, just the second time all season that Valpo has posted more assists than turnovers. Valpo also forced 12 IUPUI miscues, converting them into 15 points. The Crusaders held a significant edge in the paint, doubling up the Jaguars, 24-12.

USING THE FREEBIES: Valpo has taken advanatage of its trips to the free throw line much more over the past month than the Crusaders did to start the season. Valpo was hitting at just a 64.9% clip from the charity stripe over its first nine games, but has connected on 82.9% of its free throws since. The improvement coincided with the Crusaders' trip to Hawai'i, where they hit 90.6% of their free throws, a tournament best. Included in that trip was a perfect 13-of-13 effort from the foul line against Charlotte.

BALANCED ATTACK: One of the trademarks of this year's Crusader squad has been balance, as no one player can be keyed upon by opposing defenses. Three Valpo players are averaging at least 10 points per game, led by 11.8 per contest from Brandon McPherson. Freshman Samuel Haanpaa is putting up 10.8 points per game, while sophomore Urule Igbavboa is posting 10.4 points per contest. Junior Shawn Huff sits just below the threshold at 9.9 per game. Those four have paced the Crusaders in scoring in 14 of 17 contests this season.

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.

URULE RULES THE POST: Sophomore forward Urule Igbavboa was one of many options coach Homer Drew had at his disposal to replace the production lost from last year's squad. Halfway through the 2006-07 season, Igbavboa has stepped up as Valpo's go-to guy in the post, averaging 10.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, the latter mark pacing the Crusaders and ranking second in the Mid-Con. Igbavboa also ranks second in the league with five double-doubles, the most recent coming in Valpo's win at Centenary, when he had 14 points and 11 caroms. Urule surpassed his previous career high in the scoring column against Oakland, hitting 8-of-9 shots form the floor on his way to 20 points. The sophomore, who also ranks sixth in the conference with 14 blocked shots, is among the nation's best at grabbing defensive rebounds, pulling down 24.5% of all opponents' missed shots, 28th best in the country.

BACK ON AGAIN: Freshman guard Samuel Haanpaa struggled in the Crusaders' first two conference games, but exploded at the ARC last weekend. Haanpaa accounted for 34 points over the two home contests, hitting 11-of-15 shots from the floor, including an incredible 10-of-13 mark from behind the arc. Haanpaa also had two of his best rebounding games of the season, pulling down 15 caroms over the two games. He paced the Crusaders with eight rebounds in the loss to Oakland, and led Valpo with 19 points and seven rebounds in his second career start against IUPUI. Haanpaa is currently second in the team in scoring (10.8 ppg) and fourth in the Mid-Con in 3-pointers made (2.4/game).

MAC IS BACK: Sophomore guard Brandon McPherson has stepped forward as Valpo's most consistent scoring threat to this point in the season. MacPherson scored 16 and 13 points versus Oakland and IUPUI, respectively, reaching double figures for the 10th time in the last 12 games. He also dished out six assists with just two turnovers, improving his assist-to-turnover ratio to 1.44. McPherson leads Valpo in scoring (11.8) and assists (3.3), the latter mark ranking sixth in the Mid-Con.

DIEBLER D'S UP: Sophomore guard Jake Diebler was given the task at halftime of slowing down IUPUI's guard tandem of David Barlow and Gary Patterson, who had combined for 22 first-half points. Diebler was up to the task, allowing the duo only eight second-half points. He also combined for seven assists and just one turnover in his 68 minutes of play last weekend. Diebler is third on the team, averaging 30.4 minutes per game, and leads the Crusaders in steals (20) and free throw percentage (.882).


SEASON TO DATE: Western Illinois has struggled so far this season, coming into today's game with a record of 4-14. Two of the Leathernecks' four wins have been against non Division I teams, while they have also defeated Radford and Texas-Arlington. WIU is currently on an eight-game losing streak after suffering a four-game skid earlier this season in which they lost the four games by a total of seven points. Included in that stretch was a quintuple-overtime loss to IPFW.

JACKSON FIVE: First-team preseason All-Conference selection David Jackson is leading the Leathernecks in scoring with 12.6 points per game, but has struggled so far this season, shooting at just a 38.2% clip from the field, including just 20.8% from behind the arc. Jackson is also leading WIU in rebounding (5.2/game), assists (39) and steals (26). Helping Jackson out with the scoring duties has been Sammy Hunter, with 12.3 points per game, and Jerryck Owens-Murrey, who put up 9.6 points per game through the first 16 games of the year before missing the last two.