Valparaiso at Akron - Sunday, December 27, 2009 - 1 p.m. CST
The Matchup: Valparaiso takes on its final non-league foe for nearly two months on Sunday afternoon, traveling to Ohio to take on Akron in a return game from last year’s BracketBusters matchup.
Last Time Out: Valparaiso held a 67-56 lead with just over six minutes to play Tuesday evening in Fort Wayne, Ind., but host IPFW ended the game on a 19-5 run to defeat the Crusaders by a 75-72 count. A 10-2 spurt midway through the second half gave the Crusaders their 11 point lead, but Valpo went just 1-for-6 from the floor and committed six turnovers in the final six minutes as the Mastodons came from behind for the win. Brandon Wood led the Crusaders with 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting, including four triples, while also pulling down six rebounds. Cory Johnson added 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting and also tallied a team-high eight boards.
Series History: The Crusaders and Zips met up four times in a two-year span in the early ‘90s when Akron was a member of the Mid-Continent Conference, with Akron winning all four games, while Valpo captured the most recent matchup, last season on Feb. 21 by a 74-66 count. Valpo trailed by 18 with 6:29 to play in the first half, but cut the lead to five at the break and allowed the Zips to hit just six second-half field goals. Six different players finished in double figures for the Crusaders, led by 17 points on 5-for-7 shooting by Howard Little.
Following the Crusaders: As always, Tuesday’s game can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network (WAKE, 1500 AM, Valparaiso; WEFM, 95.9 FM, Michigan City; WLPR, 89.1 FM, Merrillville). 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 the VSRN audio and live statistics can be found at www.valpoathletics.com.
Knocking Down Shots: Valpo connected on exactly 50% (25-for-50) of its shots from the floor against IPFW on Tuesday, continuing its recent trend of sharp shooting. After hitting half their shots or better in just two of their first six games of the year, the Crusaders have hit at a .500 or better clip in five of their last six contests. With their recent success hitting from the field, Valpo now leads the Horizon League in field goal percentage at .476.
Multiple Threats: The Crusader offense, which leads the Horizon League with an average of 75.4 points/game, features three players averaging at least 11.7 PPG, and against IPFW, two of them scored at least 20 points, the fourth time that has happened this season. Brandon Wood, who leads the league with 20.5 PPG, went for 25 in the season opener at Ball State and was joined by Cory Johnson, who is fourth in the league in scoring at 16.3 PPG, with 21 points. Wood then dropped 30 on #6/4 North Carolina while Brandon McPherson, averaging 11.7 PPG, scored 20 as well versus the Tar Heels. Most recently, Wood tallied 21 points and Johnson 20 against Concordia, and the duo went for 23 and 22 points, respectively, at IPFW.
Grabbing the Boards: Valpo has acquitted itself well in the rebounding department recently, outpacing its opponent in the category for the third straight game on Tuesday with a 36-33 advantage at IPFW. In fact, after being outrebounded by 32 rebounds over the first four games of the season, the Crusaders have enjoyed a 19-rebound advantage over their opponents in the past eight games. Against the Mastodons, four different Valpo players tallied at least six rebounds, led by eight rebounds from Cory Johnson.
Enjoying Easy Wins: Valpo enjoyed two very easy victories in two of its past three games, beating Toledo by 32 and Concordia by 26. It marks the first time since January 2/7, 2006, when the Crusaders downed Oakland by 31 and Longwood by 32, that Valpo has beaten back-to-back opponents by at least 25 points. In addition, the 32-point win over Toledo matched the largest win by a Crusader squad over another D-I school in the last eight seasons.
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.
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 20.5 points/game and also ranks third in the league in field goal percentage, also has reached at least 20 points on five other occasions, including a game-high 23 last time out at IPFW.
...and Fills Up the Stat Sheet: But the sophomore has showcased his ability to do more than just score recently. Wood pulled down a team-high nine rebounds at #5/5 Purdue before tallying five rebounds and six assists against Toledo, six rebounds and six assists versus Concordia and six rebounds at IPFW. In fact, over the last four games, he is averaging 19.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. On the year, he is second on the team in rebounding (4.8 RPG) and third in assists (2.0 APG).
Johnson Works Down Low: Redshirt junior Cory Johnson has been a consistent force in the paint so far for the Crusaders, pacing Valpo on the glass in eight games and reaching double figures in scoring on 11 occasions. Most recently, Johnson was 7-for-9 from the floor en route to 22 points at IPFW, while also pulling down a team-best eight rebounds. On the year, Johnson ranks second in the league in field goal percentage (.585), fourth in scoring (16.3 PPG) and fifth in rebounding (6.8 RPG).
If It Goes Up, It Goes In: Johnson has been on an extended hot streak from the floor over Valpo’s last six games. In that time, the redshirt junior has connected on 44-of-63 (.698) shots from the floor while averaging 18.5 PPG. In fact, Johnson has hit at a .692 or better clip from the field in five of those six games, the only outlier being a 3-of-7 performance at Purdue. On the year, he has connected on at least 60% of his field goal attempts in seven games.
Broekhoff Bombs Away: Freshman guard Ryan Broekhoff enjoyed the best game of his young career against Concordia last Saturday. Broekhoff played 17 minutes off the bench in the win over the Falcons and hit six shots from the field, including a quartet of 3-pointers, to set a new career best with 17 points. The freshman also pulled down a game-high eight rebounds. He followed with a solid performance at IPFW on Tuesday, getting to the foul line six times en route to seven points while also dishing out a game-high four assists.
Quickly: The Crusaders continue to lead the league in assists (16.4 APG) despite having just nine helpers at IPFW, matching a season low ... it has been a total team effort in the assist column though, as Brandon McPherson leads the team with just 2.8 APG on the season ... Valpo also ranks second in the Horizon League in steals (8.6 SPG) and has registered at least six thefts in every game this year ... Howard Little and Tommy Kurth each set season highs in rebounds at IPFW, pulling down seven and six boards, respectively ... four different Crusaders (McPherson, Wood, Broekhoff, Michael Rogers) are connecting on at least 40% of their 3-point attempts on the season and all rank among the top-15 in the Horizon League in the category.