Valpo Returns Home, Faces Toledo Saturday Afternoon
Cory Johnson has reached double figures in scoring in eight of Valpo's first nine games. (Andy Keilen)
Valpo Returns Home, Faces Toledo Saturday Afternoon
Friday, December 11, 2009

Toledo at Valparaiso - Saturday, Dec. 12, 2009 - 2 p.m.

The Matchup: Valparaiso plays on its home court for just the second time during the regular season, returning to the ARC to take on Toledo in a Saturday afternoon matinee.  The game is the first of two straight home contests for the Crusaders.

Last Time Out:
Valparaiso fell behind 22-3 just over seven minutes into the game, a deficit it could not overcome, as #5/5 Purdue went on to an 86-62 victory over the Crusaders Wednesday evening in West Lafayette, Ind.  Valpo would get no closer than 14 points after the game’s opening run.  Brandon Wood led the Crusaders with 21 points, coming off the bench for the first time in his Crusader career, and added a game-high nine rebounds as well.  Cory Johnson chipped in 11 points and also came up with a career-best five steals on the defensive side of the ball.

Series History:
Toledo holds a narrow 5-4 edge in the all-time series over Valpo, a series which dates back to the 1946-47 season.  In the two teams’ last meeting, Valpo connected on better than 70% of its first half shots en route to a 23-point halftime lead and cruised to an 84-65 victory over Toledo in both teams’ final game at the Big Island Invitational in Hilo, Hawai’i on Nov. 26, 1995.  Four Crusader starters finished in double figures in the scoring column, led by a game-high 20 points by Chris Ensminger, who also led all players with ten rebounds as Valpo outrebounded Toledo, 35-20.  Bryce Drew chipped in 15 points and a game-best six assists.

Following the Crusaders: 
Saturday’s game will be televised live on Lakeshore Public Television and can be picked up nationwide on the ESPN Full Court package with Dick Harlan and Joe Arredondo on the call.  As always, the contest can also 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.  WVUR, Valpo’s student station, will also be broadcasting the game over its airwaves.  Links for the VSRN audio and video through the Horizon League Network, as well as live statistics, can be found at www.valpoathletics.com.

Home Cooking: A return home to the Athletics-Recreation Center should help the Crusaders fill up the win column, based on past performance.  Today’s game, the first of back-to-back home contests, is Valpo’s first at the ARC since the Crusaders’ win in the home opener against IUSB.  That victory improved Valpo’s home mark since the start of the 1993-1994 campaign to 171-37, an .822 winning percentage.  Valpo has also finished above .500 in each of the last 16 seasons at home.

Ranked vs. Unranked Comparison: Valpo has played four of its first nine games against top-25 competition, making for an interesting comparison of the Crusaders’ numbers in those games versus stats from games against unranked teams.  Offensively, the Crusaders are hitting 7% more of their field goal attempts (.491-.421) and 5.5% more from behind the arc (.392-.337) against unranked teams.  On the glass, Valpo is outrebounding unranked foes 33.2-33.0, but trails in the category against ranked teams 34.2-25.5.  Defensively, the most glaring comparison comes in the number of turnovers forced, as the Crusaders have forced 16.2 turnovers/game against unranked foes and just 11.8/game versus ranked teams.  Full stat breakdowns by ranked/unranked are available later in the notes.

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.

Handling the Basketball: Valpo’s success on offense early this year has been in large part due to sharing the basketball and not turning it over.  The Crusaders lead the league in assists (15.9/game), assisting on 60.9% of their made baskets, and are averaging just 13.7 turnovers/game.  Valpo’s assist/turnover ratio of 1.16 ranks atop the league, while no other league schools are better than an even 1.00 ratio.

Big Individual Efforts: In the past three seasons combined, Valpo has had 25-point scoring explosions from a player just six times.  Through eight games this year, however, the Crusaders have had individuals lighting up the scoreboard, as Valpo has already received five efforts of at least 25 points from three different players.  Wood scored 25 at Ball State and 30 at #6/4 North Carolina to go along with his 39-point outburst at GSU, while Brandon McPherson dropped on 25 on IU-South Bend and, most recently, Cory Johnson scored 26 against Arkansas-Fort Smith.  Entering this season, the last time the Crusaders had a 25-point scorer in three consecutive games (as Wood and McPherson did in the season’s first three games) was Jan. 20-27, 1997, when Bryce Drew scored 34 at Oral Roberts and 38 against Western Illinois before Tony Vilcinskas dropped 28 on Northland.

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.

BWood Gets Buckets: Redshirt sophomore guard Brandon Wood has quickly etched his name among the most talented scorers to wear a Valpo uniform.  Wood broke the Crusaders’ Division I single-game scoring record on Nov. 27, scoring 39 points in a winning effort over Georgia Southern.  He went on to earn Legends Classic Statesboro Subregional All-Tournament accolades after averaging 23.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game while shooting 60% over the three games.  On the season, Wood leads all Horizon League players with 21.0 PPG, including a game-high 21 points as well as nine rebounds most recently at #5/5 Purdue.

Joining an Elite Group:
Wood’s 39-point effort at GSU was his second 30+ point output of the year, joining a 30-point show at North Carolina.  The sophomore is just the third Crusader in the last 15 years to score 30 or more points multiple times in his career, joining Bryce Drew (5x) and Dan Oppland (2x), and needed just five games into his Crusader career to accomplish the feat.

Johnson Keeps Producing:
Redshirt junior Cory Johnson has been a consistent force in the middle so far for the Crusaders, pacing Valpo on the glass in six games and reaching double figures in scoring on eight of the Crusaders’ nine contests.  Last time out, Johnson posted 11 points and four rebounds against #5/5 Purdue and also picked up a career-best five steals, all in the second half.  Johnson, who leads the league with a .541 field goal percentage, looks to be among the players who will benefit most from playing unranked opponents, as he has averaged 12.8 PPG and 4.0 RPG against ranked teams versus 17.6 PPG and 8.6 RPG against unranked teams this year.

McPherson Connects From Downtown: Fifth year senior Brandon McPherson has always been among the Crusaders’  most potent threats from behind the 3-point line, but has been more accurate than normal from deep this year, hitting 20-of-39 from behind the arc.  His 3-point percentage of .513 is third in the Horizon League, while he also ranks as the fourth-best free throw shooter in the league, connecting at an .852 clip from the charity stripe.  McPherson has also done a solid job handling the ball as the Crusaders’ point guard, carrying a 1.40 assist/turnover ratio into Wednesday’s action.

Quickly: The Crusaders’ starting lineup saw a shakeup yet again on Wednesday, with freshman guard Tommy Kurth earning his first career start alongside fellow freshmen Ryan Broekhoff and Matt Kenney, as well as Johnson and Howard Little ... with that change, McPherson and Wood both came off the bench, the latter doing so for the first time in a Valpo uniform ... Kenney tied his career high with three field goals and set a new career best with three free throws versus Purdue ... Kurth played a career-high 26 minutes against the Boilermakers ... the Crusaders hit on 79.2%  of their free throws (19-of-24) against Purdue, making more free throws than their opponent for just the second time in seven games against D-I foes this year ... Little currently ranks seventh in the league with 1.9 steals/game and has come up with a theft in 13 straight contests dating back to last season.