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Gorches: VU’s ‘Breakfast on Bryce’ brings out large, spirited crowd

Members student secticheer three point basket during Crusaders' game against Northern Illinois ARC Valparaiso Tuesday Nov. 13 2012. Head coach

Members of the student section cheer a three point basket during the Crusaders' game against Northern Illinois at the ARC in Valparaiso Tuesday Nov. 13, 2012. Head coach Bryce Drew and a number of players credited the student section with helping overcome the 7am start time for the game. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 15, 2012 6:20AM



VALPARAISO — Back in the days when I was in college, there’s no way I would wake up before 7 a.m. to attend a basketball game.

Maybe I would have stayed up all night. Oh to be young, dumb and occasionally inebriated.

Then again, I didn’t attend a school like Valparaiso University with a men’s basketball team that has such a loyal and fervent following and warrants an ESPN-televised contest once in a while.

So when I glanced at the VU men’s basketball schedule before the season, my eyes immediately gravitated toward Tuesday’s ESPN Tip-Off Marathon game against Northern Illinois at 7 a.m. at the Athletics-Recreation Center.

“Yikes” was the first word that came to mind.

“Coffee” was the second.

Being an eternal pessimist, I also thought about seeing plenty of empty seats in the ARC, which is usually a hopping place for a men’s game, especially when the squad has high hopes like this season in which the Crusaders are the favorite to repeat as Horizon League regular-season champs and possibly earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Boy was I wrong.

Not only was the ARC almost full in the lower level of seats with a student section packed with fluorescent-green-shirt-clad crazies, but the crowd was bigger than many nonconference night games.

It’s debatable if that surprisingly large (2,445 according to the box score) and frenzied crowd led to Valparaiso’s inspired play or vice versa, but the end result was a 69-46 victory for VU that was close at halftime before the Crusaders started shooting lights out in the second half.

“The student section was awesome,” Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew said. “It woke me up this morning seeing the green shirts, and I think the players fed off that energy.”

Well, that’s his theory. I think it was a little of both since Ryan Broekhoff’s 16 points on 4-of-7 from 3-point range in the first half — 20 points and 13 rebounds overall — got the crowd going, especially when he pumps his fist after each 3-pointer to send energy back to the students.

Drew was so impressed with the crowd that it was announced after the final buzzer that he would “pick up the tab” for any students wearing the bright green shirts who got breakfast at Jimmy’s Cafe northwest of the campus.

It was called “Breakfast on Bryce,” which is appropriate since the game could have been called “Breakfast with Bryce and the Boys.”

“Hey, if they’re going to get up early to watch us, we’re picking up the tab,” Drew said, referring to the university and emphasizing “we’re” as if there might be some NCAA violation if it was just coming out of his pocket. Guess someone will have to look through the extensive NCAA rulebook to clarify that one.

Believe it or not, VU wasn’t the worst off of the schools participating in the Tip-Off Marathon that began at 11 p.m. on Monday night.

That first game was West Virginia at Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash. at 9 p.m. local time. Not bad, but what about the game that preceded NIU-VU — Stony Brook at Rider, which is located in Lawrenceville, N.J. It started at 6 a.m. New Jersey time, meaning those students really woke up early ... or just stayed up slightly less than VU students, some of whom got lucky that a handful of professors canceled Tuesday classes.

“Yeah, my professor canceled my class today,” said senior Matt Kenney, who hit three 3-pointers on his way to 16 points off the bench.

Ben Boggs also hit a trio of 3-pointers on his way to 11 points. Two of the treys came on back-to-back possessions to start the second half on assists from Erik Buggs.

That early in the morning, a pair of Buggs-to-Boggs connections made me chuckle.

“It was definitely something new,” Boggs said. “It was a matter of getting to bed early, waking up early and getting some food in your system.”

Who knows if that’s how some of the students looked at it.

Freshman band member Jon Rensberger was just starting a busy morning since he had a calculus exam at 11:50 a.m.

“I would usually sleep until 11 today,” the Chesterton High School graduate said.

His bandmate, Jacob Pritchard, also had a class at 11:50. Both of their stamina levels were off the charts.

“It feels so weird because the energy’s so high right now in here,” Pritchard said at halftime.

Merrillville High School grad Jill Larson had an even shorter break between her time at the ARC and her next class. The member of the Crusaders women’s bowling team worked as a ticket taker, then manned the seat in front of the media room after the game. She said her first class was at 9:45 a.m., about 45 minutes after the game ended.

“We have workouts at 5 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, so I’m used to it,” Larson said.

Valparaiso assistant director of athletics Aaron Leavitt had the best analogy after confirming he had been at the ARC since around 4 a.m.

“It’s like Vegas in here — once you get in, you’re wide awake,” he said.

Considering how the NCAA has several rules about the gambling element in college athletics, I hope it’s not a violation for Leavitt just to use the word “Vegas” while talking about a college basketball game.

The time of the game was actually not too bad from a convenience standpoint. It was before most classes began — though the young man sitting in front of the media room before Larson said he had class at 7:30, and told his professor he might miss the start — and what mid-major program is going to turn down ESPN?

“I loved it,” Drew said.

Northern Illinois hadn’t been on ESPN for basketball in several years and head coach Mark Montgomery wasn’t going to turn it down.

“Anytime ESPN calls, you’re going to take it,” he said. “You’d just like it to be a little later. I can check that 7 a.m. game off my bucket list.”

Same for me and hundreds of VU students wearing green shirts.



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