#rv/-- Valparaiso (30-6, 16-2 Horizon)
Game #37 - Thursday, March 31 - 6 p.m. CT
vs. George Washington (27-10, 11-7 Atlantic 10)
Championship Game - 2016 Postseason NIT
Madison Square Garden (19,812) - New York, N.Y.
Next Up in Crusader Basketball: A season which started way back in August with a foreign tour to Canada comes down to the final 40 minutes Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, as the Valparaiso University men’s basketball team is just one win away from capturing the NIT championship. All that stands between the Crusaders and the trophy? A George Washington team which Valpo will be facing for the first time in program history.
Last Time Out: A 16-point second-half lead became a deficit late in the second half, but the Crusaders never panicked, regrouping in a battle down the stretch with BYU Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden and getting the game’s biggest shot courtesy of sophomore David Skara – a 3-pointer with 17.7 seconds to play that gave the Crusaders the lead for good in a 72-70 victory in the semifinals of the NIT. The triple from Skara capped a season-high 15-point night from the sophomore, while junior Shane Hammink punctuated the win by blocking a potential game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer - his career-high fifth block of the contest.
Following the Crusaders: TV – ESPN – Bob Wischusen (PxP), Fran Fraschilla (Analyst) and Kaylee Hartung (Sideline Reporter)
Radio – Westwood One (National affiliates/Sirius XM channel 84) - Scott Graham (PxP) and Kelly Tripucka (Analyst)
WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso) - Todd Ickow (PxP)
Links for the video, audio and live stats will be available at ValpoAthletics.com.
Head Coach Bryce Drew: Bryce Drew (124-48) is in his fifth season at the helm of the Crusader men’s basketball program in 2015-16. In his first five years, Drew has led Valpo to four Horizon League regular season titles, two Horizon League tournament championships and five postseason berths, including a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances. The 2012, 2015 and 2016 HL Coach of the Year, Drew ascended to the head coaching position on May 17, 2011 after spending six seasons as an assistant and associate head coach with the Crusaders.
Series Notes: Thursday night will mark the first meeting between Valpo and George Washington on the hardwood. GW is the second team out of the A-10 that the Crusaders have faced this year, as Valpo won at Rhode Island, 58-55, back in November as part of the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon. Against current A-10 programs, the Crusaders hold a 10-14 all-time record.
...in the @HorizonLeague preseason projections
- Valpo was picked to win the Horizon League in preseason polling, earning 36 of the 43 first-place votes.
- With the regular season title this year, the Crusaders have not finished worse than their preseason projection in the last six years.
- Junior Alec Peters was named to the preseason First Team All-League for a second straight season.
- Seniors Vashil Fernandez and Darien Walker and sophomore Tevonn Walker all earned spots on the preseason Second Team.
...notes from BYU
- Valpo won its 30th game of the season, reaching the milestone for the first time in program history.
- The Crusaders led by as many as 16 points in the second half before falling behind late, but never by more than one point.
- Valpo won despite committing a season-worst 20 turnovers.
- David Skara’s game-clinching 3-pointer with 17.7 seconds to play gave him a season-high 15 points.
- Shane Hammink matched his season block total with five blocked shots and also tied season highs for both assists (5) and steals (3).
- Five Crusaders finished in double figures on Tuesday, with no player scoring more than 15 points (Skara and Alec Peters).
- Valpo limited BYU, which entered the game ranked among the top-10 nationally in scoring offense, to just 70 points on 38.2% shooting, including just a 7-for-21 mark from 3-point range.
- Valpo hit 7-of-12 from 3-point range in a 44-point first half to jump out to a 14-point halftime lead.
...notes from Saint Mary’s
- With the win, the Crusaders set new school records for wins (29) and home wins (17) in a season.
- Valpo claimed the lead for good with a 16-0 run spanning the halftime break, turning a 31-24 deficit into a 40-31 lead.
- The Gaels went 0-for-10 with three turnovers in a nine-minute scoreless stretch - Saint Mary’s was stuck on 31 points for 37 minutes in real time (including the 15-minute halftime break).
- Alec Peters paced Valpo in scoring for the tenth straight game and scored at least 20 points for the seventh straight outing, finishing with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting and matching his career high with five assists.
- Vashil Fernandez finished with nine points, seven rebounds and six blocked shots in his final home game.
- Shane Hammink set a season best with eight rebounds.
- Valpo out-rebounded the Gaels 41-29 and surrendered just two second-chance points to Saint Mary’s.
- Valpo is the first Horizon League squad to advance to the semifinals of the NIT in MSG since Detroit in 2001.
...notes from Florida State
- Hosting an ACC team for the first time in program history, the Crusaders never trailed, taking the lead for good 22 seconds into the game - Valpo did not trail in either of the first two NIT games.
- Alec Peters led the Crusaders in scoring for the ninth straight game, finishing with 26 points, and also paced the team in rebounding with nine boards.
- Shane Hammink came up one point shy of his career high with 18 points (6-9 FG) and didn’t commit a turnover - the junior committed just one turnover in the first two NIT games.
- Valpo assisted on 19 of its 26 field goals, led by six assists from senior Keith Carter.
- Jubril Adekoya played a season high (against D-I opposition) 26 minutes, posting 11 points, five rebounds and five assists.
- For the second straight game, the Crusaders limited their opponent to 3-of-15 shooting from 3-point range.
...notes from Texas Southern
- The Crusaders never trailed against the Tigers, taking the lead for good 30 seconds into the game.
- Vashil Fernandez matched his own single-game blocked shots record with eight rejections, surpassing his own single-season record in the process as well.
- Fernandez approached a triple-double against TSU, finishing with eight points and a team-high 10 rebounds in addition to his eight blocks.
- Alec Peters paced Valpo with 28 points.
- Valpo won despite getting out-rebounded 39-35, just the second time this year the Crusaders have come out victorious when being out-rebounded.
- The Crusaders finished with 16 assists against just seven turnovers - Keith Carter and Shane Hammink led the way with five assists apiece, the latter matching a season high.
- Carter set a season best as well by scoring 17 points.
- George Washington enters Thursday’s NIT title game with a 27-10 overall record this year and went 11-7 in Atlantic 10 play.
- The Colonials advanced to the title game by virtue of a 65-46 win over San Diego State.
- GW made its way to MSG with victories over Hofstra (82-80), Monmouth (87-71) and Florida (82-77).
- The Colonials are led by Tyler Cavanaugh, who averages 16.9 points and 7.6 rebounds per game and hits at a 42.3% clip from the 3-point line.
- Patricio Garino (14.1 ppg) and Kevin Larsen (12.1 ppg, 8.4 rpg) also score in double figures for GW.
Welcome to New York
- This is the third time that the Crusaders have played in Madison Square Garden in program history, as Valpo now owns a 2-1 record at MSG.
- Valpo previously played in “The World’s Most Famous Arena” twice in the mid-1940’s against Long Island.
- The 1944-45 Crusaders, members of the Valparaiso University Athletics Hall of Fame as the “World’s Tallest Team”, defeated LIU on Dec. 9, 1944 by a 64-59 final.
- Ironically, the 1944-45 team - despite posting the best winning percentage in program history (21-3, .875) - was not awarded a berth into that season’s NIT.
- LIU went on to beat Valpo at MSG the next season on Dec. 5, 1945, downing the Crusaders 60-40.
Most Wins Ever
- Valpo hit the 30-win milestone for the first time in program history with Tuesday night’s win over BYU.
- The victory over Saint Mary’s last Tuesday was Valpo’s 29th of the season, breaking the program single-season record for wins.
- Last year’s squad won a then-program best 28 wins, finishing the year with a 28-6 overall record.
- Valpo enters the NIT championship game with 30 wins, one of just six programs in the nation with 30 or more victories.
- The win over the Gaels also marked Valpo’s 17th win of the season at the ARC (17-1), setting a new program record for home wins in a single year.
- This year’s Crusader team reached 20 victories with the win at UIC - the 19th team in Valpo men’s basketball history to win at least 20 games and the fourth in Bryce Drew’s five years.
Shot Blocker Extraordinaire
- Senior center Vashil Fernandez, the anchor of the Crusader defense, ranks as the nation’s most prolific shot-blocker this season.
- Fernandez leads the nation in both total blocks (114) and blocks/game (3.26) as of the end of play Wednesday.
- Fernandez’s numbers are even more impressive when looking at advanced stats, as he leads the nation in block percentage at 14.11% - 1.07% better than Navy’s Will Kelly, who ranks second nationally.
- Fernandez has blocked five or more shots in 11 games this season, including tying his own single-game record with eight rejections in the first round of the NIT versus Texas Southern.
- Fernandez is just two blocked shots away from matching the Horizon League single-season record for blocks, 116 set by Damian Eargle in 2011-12.
Peters Closing With a Flourish
- Junior forward Alec Peters has been at his best for the Crusaders in the last month of the season, and ranks third nationally (>20% possessions used) in Ken Pomeroy’s Offensive Rating metric.
- Peters has scored at least 20 points in seven of the last eight games.
- Over the last nine games, Peters is averaging 24.1 points and 10.1 rebounds per game on .544/.458/.844 shooting.
- Prior to Tuesday’s win over BYU, it was announced that Peters had been honored as an AP Honorable Mention All-American.
- Peters was named a USBWA All-District V honoree - one of just 91 honorees nationwide - and was also a member of the Horizon League All-Tournament Team.
- Peters was named CBS Sports National Player of the Week Feb. 22 - the first player in program history to earn the honor from CBS Sports - and was chosen as American Sports Network National Player of the Week Feb. 29.
- Peters earned Horizon League Player of the Week honors from both the league office and College Sports Madness both weeks.
- With his efforts over the last month, Peters has moved into Valpo’s single-season top-10 charts in both scoring and rebounding - the only player in Crusader history to rank in the top-10 in both categories for the same season.
Crusader Postseason History
- Valpo has set a new program best in the postseason by winning four games in this year’s NIT.
- Previously, Valpo most famously won two games to reach the Sweet Sixteen of the 1998 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship, and also won two games apiece in the 1962 and 1967 NCAA College Division Championships.
- In its third NIT appearance (2003, 2012), the Crusaders earned their first win in the tournament with the first-round win over Texas Southern.
- Valpo previously lost at Iowa in 2003 and lost at Miami in 2012.
- The Crusaders’ last postseason victory prior to this season came in the first round of the 2008 CBI, when Valpo won at Washington.
Back in the Postseason
- With the Horizon League regular season title, the Crusaders secured a berth in the postseason NIT.
- Valpo was one of the ‘First Four Out’ of the NCAA Tournament, assuring the Crusaders a one seed in the NIT.
- This year is the sixth straight season Valpo has appeared in postseason play and the 15th time in the last 21 years.
- Every four-year senior class since the 1995 class has made at least one postseason trip.
- Valpo clinched a share of the Horizon League league regular season crown with the home win over Oakland, and secured the outright title two days later with the win over Detroit.
- The sweep of the Wisconsin road trip to close the year gave the Crusaders a 16-2 record in Horizon League play.
- Valpo won the regular season crown by three games - the first Horizon League team to claim the title by three games or more since the undefeated 2009-10 Butler squad.
- The Crusaders have now won four outright regular season titles in Bryce Drew’s five years at the helm.
- Valpo has now claimed its conference regular season title in 13 of the last 22 seasons - the Crusaders now have 16 regular season league titles total in program history.
Four in Five Years
- Valpo’s stretch of four regular season titles in five years puts the Crusaders among the top spans of results in Horizon League history.
- Xavier won six regular season championships in an eight-year stretch, including five in six years (1987-88; 89-90; 90-91; 92-93; 93-94; 94-95).
- Butler won four straight regular season titles (1999-2003) and then had another five-year string of championships (2006-2011).
- Three Crusaders were honored with Horizon League postseason awards, all of whom earned repeat accolades.
- Head coach Bryce Drew earned Coach of the Year honors for the third time in his career (2011-12; 2014-15).
- Drew joins Pete Gillen, Jim Crews, Barry Collier, Bruce Pearl and Todd Lickliter as the only coaches to be named Horizon League Coach of the Year at least three times.
- Senior Vashil Fernandez was named Defensive Player of the Year for a second straight year - the first player in league history to earned the honor twice - and also repeated as a member of the league’s All-Defensive Team.
- Junior Alec Peters was named a First Team All-Horizon League selection for the second straight season.
Look at the Record Book
- Both senior Vashil Fernandez and junior Alec Peters are moving up the Crusader record books in a number of categories.
- Beyond his school-record block total (now at 284 total blocks), Fernandez also ranks 11th in Crusader history with 667 career rebounds.
- Fernandez also surpassed his own single-season blocked shots record in the NIT opener versus Texas Southern and now has 114 blocks this season.
- Meanwhile, Peters - in just his third season - enters Thursday’s game in fifth place in Crusader history with 1,667 career points - just eight points shy of Lubos Barton for fourth position.
- Peters also ranks second in 3-point % (43.5%), fourth in 3-pointers made (229), seventh in free throw % (82.5%) and ninth in rebounding (694).
- In addition, senior Keith Carter moved into Valpo’s all-time top-20 in assists earlier this year and now is 15th in Crusader history with 294 career assists.
- Peters has scored 664 points this year, second-most in a single season in program history as he passed Dick Jones (662, 1966-67) last time out.
- He has already grabbed 303 rebounds as well, good for fifth in a single year.
- Peters ranks sixth in a single season in 3-pointers made (89) and free throws made (141), as well as seventh in field goals made (217).
- Carter has cracked the single-season top-10 for both assists (154, 8th) and steals (57, t-3rd).
Challenging League Records
- This year’s Crusaders have already broken a number of Horizon League records and are in position to potentially set a few others.
- Valpo set the league record for rebounds in league-only play against Detroit, surpassing 2008-09 Milwaukee’s previous record of 689 - the Crusaders closed out the league slate with 785 rebounds in league play.
- With the end of the regular season, the Crusaders set new league records for (Valpo final mark in parentheses):
- League-only scoring margin, +13.2, 2009-10 Butler (+14.7)
- League-only rebounding average, 43.2, 1981-82 Loyola (43.6)
- League-only rebounding margin, +11.1, 1986-87 Loyola (+13.0)
- Other records the Crusaders could challenge include (Valpo current mark in parentheses):
- Overall scoring margin, +12.6, 2001-02 Butler (+13.2)
- Overall rebounding average, 41.8, 1990-91 Dayton (41.7)
Glance at the Rankings
- Valpo received three votes in the Mar. 14 AP top-25 poll, the eighth time in the last nine weeks the Crusaders have received votes, and have received votes in the coaches top-25 poll seven times.
- The Crusaders have received votes in 10 editions of the AP poll this season and picked up 30 points Jan. 18 - their highest total of points ever in the AP poll.
- The Crusaders earned a season-high 16 points in the Jan. 18 poll, their highest regular-season tally in poll history (Valpo finished ranked #23 in the postseason poll in 1998).
- As of Wednesday, Valpo is ranked 27th in the nation in RPI.
- Following the road win over Detroit and subsequent results, the Crusaders moved up to #18 in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings - their high-water mark this season.
- As of Wednesday, Valpo is ranked #30 in the KenPom ratings.
- Valpo closed last season at #61 in the KenPom ratings - its highest year-end ranking was back in 2001-02 (#51).
Getting It Done With Defense
- One of the best defensive teams in the nation last season, the Crusaders have been even stronger defensively this season, highlighted by their efforts the past two times out against the nation’s top field goal percentage offense in Saint Mary’s and a top-10 scoring offense in BYU.
- As of Wednesday, Valpo ranks sixth in the nation in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency.
- In traditional stats, Valpo ranks ninth nationally in scoring defense (62.4 ppg) and third in field goal percentage defense (38.3%).
- Valpo has held 15 Division I opponents to one of their four worst offensive efficiencies of the season, including four to their worst performance.
- Valpo has given up 47 or fewer points seven times this season - the first time the program has done that in one season since the 1945-46 campaign.
Crashing the Glass
- Combined with their stellar defense has been a tremendous effort on the glass, as Valpo currently ranks seventh nationally with a +9.1 rebound margin.
- Valpo’s +31 advantage at Youngstown State was its best against a Division I opponent in at least two decades.
- The Crusaders held the advantage on the glass in 17 of 18 Horizon League games, including a double-figure advantage 11 times.
- Valpo finished league play with an average edge on the boards of +12.9, while Alec Peters (9.2 rpg) and Vashil Fernandez (8.4 rpg) ranked 2-4 in the league in rebounding in league-only action.