The Matchup: Valparaiso celebrates the 10-year anniversary of its Sweet Sixteen team, bringing the members of the team back for a reunion today as the Crusaders host Youngstown State. The members of the 1997-98 squad in attendance will be honored at halftime of the game. Tonight is the Penguins’ first visit to the ARC since the 2001-02 campaign, when the Crusaders downed Youngstown State by a 80-50 score. Valpo defeated the Penguins earlier this year in Ohio to improve its record in the all-time series to 17-7.
Last Meeting: Valparaiso took the lead for good with 14:40 to play at Youngstown State Jan. 17, and converted on 8-of-9 free throw attempts in the game’s final minute to secure a 67-61 victory over the Penguins. With 14 minutes to go, freshman Bryan Bouchie gave Valpo the lead for good with back-to-back buckets in the paint, eventually scoring eight straight Crusader points to help extend the Valpo advantage to three points at 37-34 with 12:20 to play. The Crusaders would maintain a two-possession lead for most of the rest of the ballgame. McPherson poured in a season-high 20 points to lead the Crusaders, with 15 points coming on a perfect 5-for-5 effort from the field in the second half. Huff added 15 points of his own, 13 of which came in the second 20 minutes, while Bouchie scored 15 points off the bench and also grabbed seven rebounds. Jarryd Loyd dished out a game-high seven assists, all of which came in the second half.
Last Time Out: Cleveland State composed a 15-3 run late in the second half Thursday night at the Athletics-Recreation Center to pull away from Valparaiso, as the Vikings defeated the Crusaders by a 71-58 score. Valpo took the lead with a second to play in the first half on a free throw by Urule Igbavboa, capping a 16-4 run for the Crusaders to close out the half up 35-34, but the Vikings took the lead for good a minute into the second half. Igbavboa led the Crusaders in scoring for the first time this year with 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting, while Shawn Huff added 13 points and a game-high seven rebounds.
On the Air: Tonight’s game, like every game this season, can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network, a four-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; WAKE, 1500 AM in Valparaiso; and WWLO, 89.1 FM in Lowell. Veteran broadcaster Todd Ickow returns for his 17th season on play-by-play, while WVUR’s Adam Amin will handle the color commentary.
Back Home Again: While Valparaiso has dropped four of its last six games at home, the Crusaders still enjoy a great home-court advantage at the Athletics-Recreation Center. Valpo is 8-4 at the ARC this year, the 15th straight season that the Crusaders have won at least eight games at home. They are 211-96 (.690) all-time at home, including a 157-31 (.835) mark in the last 15 seasons. The schedule sets up kindly down the stretch for the Crusaders in Horizon League play, as three of their final five league games will be at home.
Crusaders Go Bracket Busting: Valparaiso earned a televised contest for the first time in its four years as a part of the O’Reilly ESPNU BracketBusters pool of teams, getting paired against Miami (Ohio) for a game at the ARC on February 23. The Crusaders and RedHawks will face off at 5 p.m. CST on ESPN Classic, the first ever BracketBusters game to be shown live on the network. Valpo had previously drawn Butler, Niagara and Western Michigan in their first three years as a part of the BracketBusters pool.
Back on the Deuce: The Crusaders won’t be done with ESPN games after February 23, however. It was announced earlier this week that Valpo’s regular-season finale at the ARC against Wright State on March 1 will be broadcast live at 11 a.m. CST on ESPN2 as part of ESPN’s Judgement Week. It will be the third Crusader home game in a month’s time broadcast on either ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPN Classic. Valpo is one of just six schools to host three home games over that time span on one of the three ESPN networks, joining Indiana, Louisville, Notre Dame, Syracuse and Villanova.
National Exposure: The three games on ESPN platforms in under a month’s time means the Crusaders will have at least five of their games broadcast nationwide this season. Valpo’s December 22 tilt at Wisconsin was shown on the Big Ten Network, while its December 30 game at North Carolina was carried on Fox Sports Net.
Bringing Experience With Them: The Crusaders made the step up to the Horizon League this season with a core group of experienced players. Valpo returns eight of 11 players who took the court last season, including each of its top seven scorers. 93.6% of last year’s scoring, 86.6% of last year’s rebounding and 90.4% of last year’s minutes played returned for the 2007-08 campaign, the highest returning percentage in each category among Horizon League squads.
Best Start: Nine conference championships. Seven NCAA Tournament appearances. A magical run to the Sweet 16. 302 wins. These are just some of the accomplishments that Crusader head coach Homer Drew and his players had piled up during Drew’s first 18 seasons at the helm of the Valpo men’s basketball program. But none of Drew’s teams had accomplished what this year’s squad did: winning ten of the season’s first 11 games. The previous best start under Drew came from the 1996-1997 team, which started 9-2 in its first 11 contests.
Handing Out the Assists: Crusader senior guard Jarryd Loyd jumped out of a tie for seventh place on Valpo’s all-time assist chart with Jamie Sykes and leapfrogged two more former Crusaders in Scott Anselm and Lubos Barton on Thursday, moving into fifth place all-time in Valpo history with 366 career assists. Loyd is just two helpers shy of Todd Smith for fourth place onthe chart. The senior is dishing out 4.9 assists per game in league play, third-best in the Horizon League, and owns the best assist-to-turnover ratio in league play at 1.97.
Shooting From 19’9": Valparaiso has proven to be one of the nation’s best 3-point shooting teams so far this season. The Crusaders are connecting on 40.1% of their attempts from behind the arc, 17th best among the 341 Division I teams. The team average of 9.4 made 3-pointers per game is good for eighth nationally as well. It’s not just one player that has been a threat for Valpo from behind the arc either, as the team’s top four 3-point shooters are all averaging better than one make per game and are all connecting on at least 42% of their attempts from downtown.
3-Point Charts Full of Current Players: The Crusaders’ prolific 3-point shooting this season has resulted in a number of players on this year’s squad making their marks on career charts in the category. Four of the top-ten most accurate shooters from behind the arc in Crusader history are on this year’s team, led by sophomore guard Samuel Haanpää, who is the Crusaders’ most accurate shooter all-time from downtown at 44.5%. Senior forward Shawn Huff ranks ninth all-time at Valpo with 139 made 3-pointers, just five triples shy of the eighth spot, while Haanpää is just one make shy of a tie for tenth with 134 3-pointers.
Ending the First Half Strong: Two of the last three games have seen Valpo put together strong runs to end the opening half of play. Thursday against Cleveland State, the Crusaders went on a 16-4 spurt over the final 5:25 to turn an 11-point deficit into a one-point lead. At Green Bay the prior Thursday, Valpo outscored the Phoenix 18-6 over the final 8:10 of the first half to earn a 13-point halftime advantage.
Defense to the Forefront: Valparaiso’s defense carried the team to its victory over UIC on Jan. 24. The Crusaders held the Flames scoreless for the first 7:27 of the second half and allowed them to hit just one of their first 20 shots of the half. UIC ended up connecting on just 17.1% (6-of-35) of its shots in the final 20 minutes and scored just 16 second-half points, Valpo’s second-best defensive half of the season.
Handling the Basketball: The Crusaders got a shot at the basket on almost every possession Jan. 12 against Green Bay, dishing out 17 assists and committing just five turnovers. Valpo point guards Jarryd Loyd and Brandon McPherson combined for 11 assists and did not commit a turnover. For Valpo, it was the fewest number of turnovers in a game since it committed just five miscues Dec. 9, 1991 against Notre Dame.
Half of Dominance: Valparaiso put together one of its most dominating halves of basketball in recent history against Indiana Wesleyan on Jan. 2. The Crusaders outscored the Wildcats by a 58-15 margin in the second half, hitting 61.3% of their shots for the half and allowing IWU to hit just 21.2%. Five different Valpo players had at least eight points in the second 20 minutes, and the Crusaders put together runs of 13-0, 10-0, 14-0 and 17-0 during the half.
Haanpää’s Magical Night: Sophomore guard Samuel Haanpää enjoyed one of the best performances in Crusader history Dec. 15 against Chicago State, breaking current associate head coach Bryce Drew’s team record for 3-pointers in a game. Haanpää knocked down 10 triples in the contest, needing just 11 attempts. He also set a new career high with 32 points in the 90-61 victory.