Valparaiso stands just 40 minutes away from returning to the NCAA Tournament after its second victory over Butler at the ARC in eight days, downing the Bulldogs 65-46 in front of a frenzied crowd Saturday evening in the second of two Horizon League Championship semifinals. Valpo will take on Detroit at the ARC on Tuesday at 8 p.m. on ESPN in the league title game, with the winner earning the league’s automatic bid to the Big Dance.
“What a tremendous atmosphere tonight,” said Crusader head coach Bryce Drew. “The fans were incredible. This was the most energy I’ve ever felt in this building. Butler is an excellent team, and has been playing its best ball of the year this last month. We know what a great coach Brad [Stevens] is, and he had his guys really playing well down the stretch. I thought Richie, Matt, and Jay came in and brought some great energy after Butler’s strong start. I’m really proud of our guys. It was a hard fought game.”
The Crusaders got a monster effort on Saturday night from Horizon League Player of the Year Ryan Broekhoff (Frankston, Victoria, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport), who posted the biggest of his 12 double-doubles on the season. Broekhoff already had eight points and seven rebounds at halftime, and ended the night with game highs of 19 points and 16 rebounds, the latter setting a new career high on the boards.
“We knew coming in this was a game where we had to rebound well,” said Drew. “What can I say about Ryan’s 16 boards? It was an incredible game from him.”
Broekhoff, who tallied his 19 points on just 6-of-9 shooting from the floor, had plenty of help offensively, as five Crusaders tallied at least eight points each Saturday. Redshirt junior Erik Buggs (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell) had his second double-figure output against the Bulldogs of the season, scoring 11 points, including a pair of 3-pointers to match his season output from beyond the arc. Junior Kevin Van Wijk (Hoofddorp, Netherlands/Katholieke Scholengemeenschap Hoofddorp) did his usual work in the post, going 4-of-7 from the floor en route to 11 points and seven rebounds.
The Crusaders dominated the Bulldogs on both ends of the floor Saturday. Offensively, Valpo shot 53.5% (23-of-43) from the field, including 17-of-27 (63.0%) from inside the 3-point line. Meanwhile, on the defensive end, the Crusaders limited Butler to just 33.3% (17-of-51) shooting and just 2-of-11 (18.2%) from the 3-point line. Led by Broekhoff’s 16 caroms, Valpo also owned a 39-22 advantage on the glass, matching its highest rebounding margin of the season.
Unlike last Friday, the semifinal game got off to a slow start for the Crusaders, who trailed 7-2 just over three minutes into the game. But a layup by Broekhoff sparked a 23-4 run over the next nine minutes by Valpo, which included six points from junior Richie Edwards (Lakeland, Fla./Lakeland [Hillsborough C.C.]) and five from Buggs. The massive spurt gave Valpo a 25-11 advantage with just under eight minutes to go in the opening half.
The Bulldogs cut into the deficit heading into the break, however, out-scoring Valpo 13-5 over the last portion of the opening stanza to make it a 31-24 Crusader lead at the half. A layup by Chrishawn Hopkins 90 seconds into the second half cut Valpo’s advantage to just five points at 31-26.
But Broekhoff came up with a pair of big plays to keep the Bulldogs from gaining momentum. With the shot clock winding down on the offensive end, the junior drilled a step-back 3-pointer to push the lead back up to eight points. Then, on the defensive side, the Aussie came from the weak side with a monster block on a Hopkins attempt.
An offensive rebound by Broekhoff with just under 14 minutes to play and an eight-point lead (38-30) would lead to the start of the dagger run for the Crusaders. The second chance resulted in a 3-pointer, as sophomore Jay Harris (Aurora, Ill./Oswego East) drilled one from downtown. Harris then set up Buggs for his second triple of the game on the next trip, putting Valpo ahead 44-30 with 12:58 to go.
While the Crusader defense held Butler scoreless for a five-minute stretch, the Crusaders kept driving the lead higher. Edwards converted a circus layup inside at the 11:45 mark to make it a 16-point game, and then Harris nailed his second deep shot of the run, capping an 11-0 run which gave Valpo a 49-30 lead with 10 minutes remaining. Butler would get no closer than 15 points the rest of the way as the Crusaders moved within one win of the tournament title.
Butler (20-14) was led by 18 points from Hopkins. The Bulldogs also got 12 points off the bench from Erik Fromm, but no other Butler player scored more than four points.
Valparaiso (22-10) will take on Detroit in the Horizon League Championship title game on Tuesday evening at 8 p.m. CST live on ESPN from the ARC. As always, the game will also be available live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network and online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also feature links to ESPN3.com live video, live stats and host the Valpo Gameday page.