Wright State at Valparaiso - Thursday, Feb. 4, 2010 - 7:05 p.m.
The Matchup: Valparaiso (11-12, 6-5 Horizon) kicks off a stretch of three home games in a five-day span and five games overall in ten days when the Crusaders host Wright State (14-8, 7-4 Horizon) Thursday night. Valpo, which sits just one game out of second place, plays the two teams currently tied for second place in its next two outings.
Last Time Out: Valparaiso trailed by eight points with 4:36 to play Sunday afternoon in Horizon League action at Green Bay, but outscored the Phoenix 19-6 the rest of the way to claim a big 84-79 win in league play. The win was the Crusaders’ first in Green Bay since 1991 and ended Valpo’s four-game road trip with a 3-1 record. Johnson scored seven points during the spurt, including a pair of 3-pointers, the second of which gave Valpo the lead for good with 2:09 to play. Five Crusaders finished in double figures on the afternoon, paced by 26 points from Brandon Wood, who scored 21 of his points in the second half. Johnson hit on 8-of-10 from the field for 20 points, while Brandon McPherson chipped in 11 points and a game-high six assists.
Series History: The Crusaders are just 5-9 all-time against the Raiders (3-4 since joining the Horizon League) and lost a heartbreaker in the last meeting. Valpo held a 57-48 lead with 7:09 to play in Dayton, Ohio on Jan. 10, but Wright State scored the game’s final 11 points, including a long jumper by Vaughn Duggins with 4.7 seconds to play, to steal a 59-57 victory from the Crusaders. Cory Johnson finished the game with 17 points while also pulling down a team-best nine rebounds. Meanwhile, Michael Rogers connected on four of his six attempts from behind the arc for a season-best 12 points.
Following the Crusaders: Thursday’s game, as always, can 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. The game can also be seen live online on the Horizon League Network. Links for the VSRN audio and HLN Video, as well as live statistics, can be found at www.valpoathletics.com.
A Rare Road Success: For the first time since Jan. 2006, Valparaiso found itself playing four consecutive true road games over the past two weekends. But despite being away from home, the Crusaders excelled, winning three games and coming two seconds away from overtime in the other. It was the first time in Valpo’s D-I history it has won three games in a road trip of four or more consecutive true road games, and the first time since Feb. 2003 it won three true road games in a single road trip.
Back Home at the ARC: With five of its final seven league games at home, the Crusaders have a chance to move up the league standings thanks to their homecourt advantage, one of the most pronounced in the Horizon League. Valpo is a stellar 6-1 at the Athletics-Recreation Center this season, improving their mark over the past 17 seasons to 176-38 (.822). In addition, the Crusaders need just one more home win to clinch their 18th consecutive season above .500 at home.
Welcome Back, Offense: The Crusaders’ offense had been held in check for much of the first half of league play, but over the last three games, Valpo has exploded on the offensive end of the floor. The Crusaders have scored 82 or more points in each of their last three outings, averaging 84.0 PPG over that stretch, the first time since Dec. 29, 2005-Jan. 7, 2006 (Centenary, Oakland, Longwood) that Valpo has scored 82 or more in three straight regulation games. In this stretch, four players are averaging 12.7 PPG or better for the Crusaders, who are hitting at a 52.1% clip from the floor and 45.9% from 3-point range.
Sharpshooters: While Valpo has been extremely accurate from the floor lately, the Crusaders have hit shots at a good clip all season long. They currently lead the league overall in both field goal percentage (.471) and 3-point percentage (.393) and boast three of the top nine 3-point shooters individually. Valpo is hitting at the same clip from the floor in league-only games, good for third in the league, but far and away leads the league in 3-point percentage in league contests at .413. Most impressively, the Crusaders have five of the top-12 3-point shooters in league-only play.
Crusaders to Take On BG: Valparaiso found out its final non-league opponent of the regular season on Monday, as the Crusaders will face off against Bowling Green on Saturday, Feb. 20 as part of the BracketBusters series. The Crusaders are in their sixth season participating in the BracketBusters series and are 3-2 over the past five years in the event. As part of the BracketBusters contract, Bowling Green will come to Valparaiso for a game at the ARC either during the 2010-2011 or 2011-2012 campaigns.
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.
Tough Start: With the Crusaders just one win shy of hitting the .500 mark for the first time this year, it’s worth noting the struggles Valpo faced early on this season. The Crusaders took on four teams ranked in the nation’s top-25 at the time of the game, all on the road, within the first nine games of the season, part of a stretch that saw Valpo play 10 of its first 13 games away from home. In addition, Valpo came into the year with the second-least experienced team in the league (based on Ken Pomeroy’s Experience statistic) and features three freshmen and two sophomores within the regular rotation.
Wood Leads the Way: 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, including a Valpo D-I record 39 at Georgia Southern earlier this year. Wood, who currently paces the Horizon League with 18.6 points/game and also ranks among the league’s best in all three shooting percentages, also has reached at least 20 points on eight other occasions. Most recently, Wood exploded in the second half against Green Bay for 21 points en route to a game-high 26 points in the win, including a season-high 11 makes from the charity stripe.
McPherson Back on Track: Fifth-year senior guard Brandon McPherson became the 29th player in Crusader basketball history to reach the 1,000 point milestone with a leaner from the baseline midway through the first half in the victory over Cleveland State Jan. 16. After failing to reach double figures in the seven-game stretch from Concordia through Wright State, McPherson has hit double figures in each of the last six games, including a pair of 20+ point games in wins over YSU and CSU. Last time out, McPherson scored 11 points and matched his season high with six assists in Valpo’s win over Green Bay.
Johnson Showcases His Versatility: Redshirt junior forward Cory Johnson has made himself known as one of the league’s premier post threats, one of just two league players that rank in the top-ten in both scoring and rebounding. But Johnson has stepped out behind the arc over the last month and showcased his shooting ability, as after going 0-of-4 over the season’s first 15 games from downtown, he is 14-of-19 from deep over the last eight contests. None of his triples were bigger than his third one Sunday at Green Bay, which gave Valpo the lead for good in the win and capped a 20-point day in which Johnson shot 8-of-10 from the floor and 3-of-4 from 3-point range.
Broekhoff Continues to Produce: Freshman guard Ryan Broekhoff has enjoyed a stellar five-game stretch of production off the bench since the start of the Cleveland State game. After reaching double figures just twice in the season’s first 18 games, Broekhoff has scored ten or more points three times in the last five, including a season-best 20 on six 3-pointers at Loyola. Over the five-game stretch, the freshman is averaging 11 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.4 APG and 1.4 BPG. Most recently, Broekhoff kicked off Valpo’s late 11-0 run with a 3-pointer, the last of his ten points, and also recorded a huge blocked shot with 25 seconds left that helped secure the victory for the Crusaders.
Kenney, Kurth Step Up: The Crusaders’ freshman duo in the backcourt of Matt Kenney and Tommy Kurth stepped up in the scoring column against Green Bay. The two combined to go a perfect 6-of-6 from the floor in the win and scored 17 points in addition to five rebounds and five assists. On the year, they have been two of Valpo’s best ballhandlers, combining to hand out four assists/game while carrying the two best assist/turnover ratios on the team.
Quickly: Johnson’s field goal percentage (.576) ranks 13th nationally ... the Crusaders are atop the HL in league-only games in offensive rebounding % (.345), but are last in defensive rebounding % (.636) ... Valpo is one of just two league teams with three or more road wins in league play (Butler).