It took five minutes longer than Crusader fans might have liked, but in the end, the wait was worth it, as the Valparaiso men’s basketball team captured the 2011-2012 Horizon League Men’s Basketball regular season title on Tuesday evening with a 66-62 overtime victory over Loyola at the ARC.
Valpo won the championship, which comes with one more league game remaining on Friday, in just its fifth season as a Horizon League member and assures the Crusaders of the #1 seed in the upcoming Horizon League Championship, which will be held at the ARC. It also guarantees that Valpo will go to the postseason for the 11th time in the last 17 years, as all NCAA Division I conference regular season champions are assured of at least a berth in the NIT, while Tuesday’s victory marked the Crusaders’ 20th of the year, the 12th time in the last 19 seasons that they have reached the 20-win milestone.
“What a game,” said Crusader head coach Bryce Drew. “These guys have worked all year, and set [winning the regular season championship] as one of their goals at the start of the season. They’ve worked extremely hard, and I’m just so proud of them for accomplishing this goal.”
Tuesday’s game was a battle throughout, one which saw 10 lead changes and seven ties. The biggest lead of the game came less than four minutes in, when Valpo started by scoring the game’s first eight points, including a pair of Will Bogan (Boise, Idaho/Vallivue [Ole Miss]) 3-pointers. Loyola’s largest lead was just six points, and the Ramblers led by four following a Jordan Hicks 3-pointer with 3:11 to play in regulation, giving the Ramblers a 52-48 lead, one they would maintain as the clock ticked under two minutes.
Valpo sliced the lead in half with 1:54 to go, as Bogan found Kevin Van Wijk (Hoofddorp, Netherlands/Katholieke Scholengemeenschap Hoofddorp) for a layup underneath to make it 52-50. Loyola ran the shot clock down before missing an inside shot, one which Ryan Broekhoff (Frankston, Victoria, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport) grabbed the rebound on and started the fast break before finding Van Wijk again for a layup to tie the game with 1:18 to go.
Another miss inside on the Ramblers’ next possession was grabbed yet again by Broekhoff, who ended the night with a game-high 11 rebounds, and the junior was fouled in the process. Broekhoff stepped to the free throw line and calmly hit both to put the Crusaders ahead with 1:01 to play. But Loyola’s Ben Averkamp was fouled on the ensuing possession and hit both his attempts to tie the game at 54 with 28.7 seconds left, and Broekhoff’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer was off the mark, sending the game to the extra session.
A layup 45 seconds in by Loyola’s Denzel Brito was the only basket for the first half of overtime, giving the Ramblers a two-point lead until Matt Kenney (Mooresville, Ind./Mooresville) stepped up and hit an open 3-pointer to give Valpo the lead for good, 57-56, with 2:35 to play. After the Crusaders forced a Rambler miss, Bogan found himself with a wide-open baseline on the offensive end and drove in for an easy layup to make it 59-56 with 1:55 to go.
Chim Kadima split a pair of free throws for Loyola on its next trip, but Bogan again came up with a huge shot, taking a pass from Erik Buggs (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell) that was deflected and unleashing a 15-foot teardrop from the right baseline which splashed through, giving Valpo a 61-57 lead with just over a minute to play. Kenney would hit two free throws with 30 seconds left to push the lead to six points.
Loyola had one last rally, as a 3-point play by Averkamp cut the Crusader lead to 63-60 with 20 seconds to go. Then, following a split at the line by Kenney, Brito drove inside for a quick layup to make it 64-62 Valpo with 14 seconds remaining. But the Crusaders got the ball inbounded to Broekhoff, who again delivered two makes at the charity stripe for the final margin, in the process securing the outright title.
It was a back-and-forth first half, as after Valpo scored the first eight, Loyola answered with a quick 12-2 run to take the lead. The Crusaders responded with an 11-2 run of their own to regain a seven-point lead, and it was still a six-point lead at 26-20 with 3:19 to go in the half. But Valpo wouldn’t score the remainder of the first half, and a pair of baskets by the Ramblers trimmed the advantage to 26-24 at the break.
Loyola came out of the locker room with the momentum to start the second half, going on a 10-2 run over the first five minutes to claim its largest lead at 34-28. The teams would trade the lead in the second half, with Valpo going up three at 44-41 on a Broekhoff triple with 7:37 remaining. But the Ramblers answered with 11 of the next 15, culminating with the Hicks 3-pointer with 3:11 to go that set up the final sequence of regulation.
Broekhoff led the way for the Crusaders with his league-best 11th double-double of the season on Tuesday, going for 17 points to go along with his 11 rebounds. Bogan added 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting, going 4-of-8 from downtown, while Van Wijk returned to the starting lineup with a 12-point effort. Kenney chipped in eight points and six rebounds off the bench, and Buggs handed out a game-high six assists.
“Will hit some huge shots for us today,” said Drew. “He got us off to a good start, and then late in overtime made a couple big plays down the stretch. Ryan just consistently finds ways to win games for us, whether its shooting, passing, rebounding – tonight he stepped up and hit all six of his free throws.”
Averkamp led Loyola (7-20, 1-15 Horizon) with a game-best 21 points and also led the Ramblers on the glass with nine rebounds. Brito scored 12 points in the losing effort, while Christian Thomas also finished in double figures with 10 points.
Valparaiso (20-10, 13-4 Horizon) will conclude the regular season with a nationally-televised game against Butler at the ARC this Friday at 6 p.m. The game will be broadcast live on ESPNU. As always, all the action can also be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network. Links to the audio webcasts, as well as live stats and the Valpo Gameday page (which will have the ESPN stream), will be available at www.valpoathletics.com.
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