Detroit win ‘best birthday present’ for McCallum
By John Mutka Post-Tribune senior correspondent March 6, 2012 11:48PM
Ray McCallum talks with his teammates coming out of a timeout Tuesday evening at Valparaiso University. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 10, 2012 11:01AM
VALPARAISO — Four games in seven days?
No problem for Detroit’s Titans.
The Motor City mob, led by relentless Ray McCallum Jr, will be making their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1999. They did it the hard way, overcoming an early nine-point deficit to smother Valparaiso on Tuesday before 4,258 stunned witnesses in the championship game of the Horizon League tournament.
Under the leadership of McCallum, one of the fiercest warriors ever to set foot in the ARC, they simply overwhelmed the Crusaders, who will take a 23-11 record into the NIT, an invite they were guaranteed by winning the regular-season title.
McCallum, coming off a 26-point binge against Cleveland State in the semifinals, put an exclamation point on his tournament MVP laurels with 21 points, six rebounds and four back-breaking steals.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” said coach Ray McCallum, who happily accepted a birthday present from the 22-13 Titans. “Best win of my life”
While he accepted congratulations, Detroit boosters, led by the Titan mascot, chanted “Defense, defense.” Later Detroit fans sang “happy birthday” to the popular coach.. They hit the nail on the head on both counts.
Detroit played with three fifth-year seniors and its maturity showed in the second half. Time after time the Titans forced the Crusaders into low-percentage shots. Valparaiso shot just 31.8 percent in the second half and was outscored 46-23.
Detroit keyed on VU’s tall tandem of Ryan Broekhoff and Kevin Van Wijk, who combined for 30 points and 14 rebounds. Broekhoff scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half, but not before the Titans erased a five-point deficit with an 11-0 run.
“The last time we played them those two players combined for 17 of 24 shots,” said coach McCallum.
“We were energized,” said his son, who capped the rally with a jumper to give Detroit a 32-31 edge. It was all downhill after that for the Crusaders, who were outscored 38-19 in the last 15 minutes.
Coach McCallum’s birthday weighed heavily on the sophomore guard’s mind.
“All I got him was a card,” he said. “My dad deserves more than that. After the game I said ‘This is your birthday present’ and gave him a big hug.”
The appreciative dad added: “Best birthday present I ever had.”