“This was the toughest first-round matchup we could have gotten,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “Their combination of size and speed is very outstanding, and it showed tonight, especially in how Detroit dominated inside. You have to compliment them, they did a good job spreading the floor to get the ball inside and then utilizing their speed in transition to help extend their lead.”
Unlike the first two meetings, which saw Valpo with ten and 19 point leads at halftime, Detroit would not let the Crusaders get out to the advantage in the first half, as the Titans utilized an early 10-2 spurt to help push their lead up into double digits just over ten minutes into the game. Detroit’s biggest lead was capped at 25-13 with 8:18 to go in the opening half before the Crusaders started slowly pulling the Titans back within reach.
A 3-pointer by Cory Johnson (Duluth, Minn./Duluth East [Iowa State]) got Valpo going, as the Crusaders would double up the Titans for the remainder of the opening 20 minutes. Johnson would add another triple, while Brandon McPherson (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) and Brandon Wood (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo [Highland C.C./Southern Illinois]) each poured in four points during the stretch as well, as Valpo outscored the Titans 16-8 over the final eight minutes of the half to trail just 33-29 at the break.
Eight early second-half points by Johnson helped the Crusaders keep pace with the Titans over the opening stages of the half, and when Wood connected on a fast-break 3-pointer with 15:02 to go, the game was tied, the first Valpo share of the lead since scoring the first basket of the contest. Detroit answered with a bucket by Eli Holman, however, and while the Crusaders would remain within one possession for the better part of the next four minutes, they could never regain even a share of the lead.
Detroit would eventually push its lead up into the two-to-three possession range, where it sat for most of the remainder of the game. The Crusaders would not let the Titans pull ahead by more than eight points, though, and got a big play with 5:15 to go, trailing by seven. Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) came up with a steal and was intentionally fouled, sinking both free throws. Given possession as well, Wood drove and got fouled and hit both of his charity attempts, cutting the deficit to 68-65 with 5:05 to play.
Detroit would score the next three points, but Matt Kenney (Mooresville, Ind./Mooresville) came up with a triple with 3:23 remaining to bring Valpo back to within 71-68. The Titans scored the next nine points, however, pushing their advantage to 12 points with 1:31 to play. A quick barrage of Crusader shots, capped by a Tommy Kurth (Osceola, Ind./Penn) 3-pointer, sliced the deficit in half in a 32-second span, but Valpo would come up empty on its next two possessions and the Titans connected on their free throws to secure the win.
“I really thought we showed good resilience,” said Drew. “We came back a number of times, first from the start of the game and then a couple second-half runs. We made a good run to get it down to a three-point game with three minutes to go, but again Detroit’s speed in transition hurt us. We couldn’t keep them in front of us and had to foul and they extended their lead.”
Johnson tied for game-high honors Tuesday with 24 points, including four 3-pointers, while Wood ended the game with 23 points, 17 of which came in the final 20 minutes. McPherson joined the aforementioned duo in double figures with 11 points and also handed out a game-best five assists. Ryan Broekhoff (Frankston, Victoria, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport) pulled down a team-high nine rebounds off the bench, but the Crusaders found themselves outrebounded, 46-31.
Chase Simon led Detroit (19-13) with 24 points on 8-of-12 shooting, while Holman went for 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting, as well as 15 rebounds. Xavier Keeling scored 14 points for the Titans, who shot 56.3% from the floor, while Eulis Stephen chipped in 11 points off the bench.
Valparaiso closes the 2009-2010 season with a 15-17 overall record, a six-game improvement in the win column over last year’s squad. The Crusaders also went 10-8 in league play, five games better than last year, to finish tied for fourth after being picked eighth in the preseason.
Individually, Wood ended the season with 565 points, tied for ninth-most in a single year in Crusader history, while Johnson scored 499 points, 21st-best in a single season all-time at Valpo. Meanwhile, McPherson, Valpo’s lone senior, closes his career 21st all-time in Crusader history in scoring (1,180 points), tied for tenth in assists (316), eighth in 3-pointers made (158), ninth in 3-point percentage (40.7%), as well as the all-time leader with 129 games played.
“I’m extremely proud of Brandon [McPherson],” said Drew. “This was his last game in a Valpo uniform, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the locker room after the game because of what he has meant to this team. We are going to miss him after five years of him working hard and making practice enjoyable every day. I hope our guys had the same feeling he had after the game, and use that feeling to come back in the offseason to work hard and get better for next year.”