Valparaiso connected on a Horizon League Championship record 15 3-pointers, seven of which came in the final 20 minutes from Brandon Wood (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo [Highland C.C./Southern Illinois]), who scored 30 points in all as the Crusaders downed Detroit in quarterfinal action Friday night in Milwaukee, Wis., 88-78. Valpo plays at Milwaukee in the second semifinal Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
“I think you saw a very good college basketball game tonight between two good basketball teams,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “I was glad we were able to get the lead and never lose, even though it did get close quite a few times in the second half. Our team played very well together, moved the ball well, shot well and was able to win.”
Wood's 30-point effort came despite missing his first seven shots from the floor and not hitting a basket until over 15 minutes into the game. The junior ended the first half just 3-of-11 from the field, including 0-of-2 from behind the arc, and with just seven points. But Wood turned things completely around in the second stanza, hitting 7-of-8 from downtown en route to 23 second-half points.
“I thought Brandon hit some big, big 3-pointers in the second half to help us keep our lead,” said Drew. “I was very pleased with his poise; he stayed patient when things weren't going his way early on and continued to work to get open.”
While Wood led the Crusaders' effort toward the record-setting barrage of 3-pointers, he got plenty of help as well on Friday. Sophomore sharpshooter Ryan Broekhoff (Frankston, Victoria, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport), who had not hit a triple in his last three games, went 3-of-6 from downtown, while freshman Jay Harris (Aurora, Ill./Oswego East) connected on two of his three long-distance tries. Three other Valpo players knocked down one apiece as well as the Crusaders broke the previous record of 13 3-pointers, set twice, most recently by Loyola in 2003.
The 3-pointers started falling early for Valpo, as triples by sophomore Erik Buggs (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell) and senior Cory Johnson (Duluth, Minn./Duluth East [Iowa State]) helped stake the Crusaders to an early 8-3 advantage. But a cold spell allowed Detroit to go on a 14-1 run over the next four minutes to claim what would be their largest lead at 17-9, before a triple by Harris stopped the Titan surge.
Valpo kept Detroit within arm's reach, tying the game once at 18-all with 9:43 to go in the first half on a Johnson bucket, but the Titans held a narrow advantage for much of the first half. Trailing 28-23 with 6:55 to go in the opening stanza, Valpo put together a quick 8-0 spurt to take the lead for good, as a Buggs inside bucket was followed with 3-pointers by Broekhoff and sophomore Matt Kenney (Mooresville, Ind./Mooresville). Detroit cut the Crusader advantage to one point on a trio of occasions down the stretch of the opening 20 minutes, the latest coming with 1:21 to play in the half, but a steal and 3-point play on the fast break by Wood gave Valpo a 40-36 lead into the locker room.
The Titans tied the game twice in the opening four minutes of the second half, but both times Valpo answered with 3-pointers, first by Broekhoff and then by Wood, to maintain possession of the lead. Wood scored 14 of his second-half points in the first seven minutes of the half, knocking down his fourth triple of the game with 13:07 to play to push the Crusader advantage to 60-52, their largest lead to that point.
Detroit scored five points on its next two possessions, however, setting up a second half in which the Crusaders had to find a counter-punch to every Titan punch. Twice in the middle stages of the half, the Titans cut the lead to two, but both times sophomore Kevin Van Wijk (Hoofddorp, Netherlands/Katholieke Scholengemeenschap Hoofddorp) came up with inside baskets to make it a two-possession game. Then with under eight minutes to play, Detroit held the ball with a chance to take the lead after a 3-pointer by Jason Calliste cut its deficit to one, but Broekhoff blocked a shot and ignited a fast break that ended with all five Crusaders touching the ball and Harris canning a 3-pointer from the corner.
Three more times down the stretch, the Titans moved within two points, but again every time, Valpo held off the Detroit attack. Leading just 69-67 with five minutes to play, Johnson knocked down a pair of huge free throws to push the lead back to four points. Following a putback basket by Ray McCallum, Wood hit yet another 3-pointer to stretch the lead to five points, and then after Detroit had scored three points over two possessions, Wood hit another triple to make it a 77-72 game with 3:28 remaining.
A Johnson free throw increased the lead to six points with under three minutes to play, and after the two sides traded turnovers, Broekhoff stepped up and drew a charge on McCallum to give the Crusaders the ball back. There was no surprise as to which Valpo player would end up taking the shot on the ensuing possession, as Wood freed himself and Kenney hit him for his seventh 3-pointer of the contest, a Valpo season-high and a career best. The triple, which came with 1:48 to play, gave Valpo a nine-point edge, and Detroit would get no closer down the stretch.
Broekhoff added 13 points to Wood's 30 and approached a double-double with nine rebounds Friday evening. Johnson also finished the night in double figures with 11 points. Harris and Kenney each contributed eight points off the bench, with the latter adding seven rebounds and four assists, while Buggs chipped in seven points and five assists. Valpo hit 30-of-62 (48.4%) from the floor and knocked down 15-of-27 (55.6%) from deep on the evening.
“I thought both Ryan and Matt did a great job on the boards for us tonight,” said Drew. “They were both key with their work inside rebounding against a big Detroit front line. Matt was wonderful off the bench for us, playing tenacious defense and handling the ball well as well.”
Detroit (17-16) placed five players in double digits, led by 22 points from Nick Minnerath. Eli Holman picked up a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive glass. The Titans hit just 6-of-21 (28.6%) from behind the arc, but stayed in the game thanks to 40 points in the paint.
Valparaiso (23-10) advances to semifinal action on Saturday evening against host and top-seeded Milwaukee. Tipoff is slated for 7:30 p.m., with the game airing live on ESPNU and ESPN3.com. As always, all the action can also be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network and online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have a link for live stats.