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Rematch of last year’s Horizon League title game will break second-place tie

Valparaiso players sit bench as Detroit Titans celebrate their 70-50 HorizLeague Tournament championship Tuesday evening Valparaiso University. | Jeffrey D.

Valparaiso players sit on the bench as the Detroit Titans celebrate their 70-50 Horizon League Tournament championship Tuesday evening at Valparaiso University. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 19, 2013 2:23PM



VALPARAISO — In its developing rivalry with Detroit, Valparaiso has won five of the last six games over the last two seasons.

But, oh, that one that got away.

The Crusaders certainly wouldn’t avenge the 70-50 loss from last season’s Horizon League Tournament championship game at the Athletics-Recreation Center. But a win on Thursday night at Calihan Hall certainly would be a significant step toward positioning themselves for another crack at a conference tournament title and an NCAA Tournament bid.

“Obviously, there’s the bad blood kind of between us after what happened last year,” Ryan Broekhoff said. “We’re still not over that, and we probably won’t be until hopefully we can reverse the roles later on this season. … A bit of a rivalry has built up over the last couple years, and it’s going to be one heck of a game.”

The Crusaders (13-5, 3-1 Horizon League), the overwhelming preseason favorites, and Titans (11-6, 3-1), voted second, are tied for second place in the conference standings, behind Wright State, the league’s lone remaining unbeaten after it was picked to finish last. Detroit also had been undefeated in conference play until a 74-62 loss at Cleveland State on Saturday.

“Despite the fact what happened last year, it’s the past, it’s over with,” said Kevin Van Wijk, who in the conference final was hobbled after suffering a knee injury late in the first half. “We’re a different team, they’re a different team. Both of us just see it as a conference game, and as a game we both want to win. We want to win it as bad as they do, so we have to make it just like Milwaukee, just like Loyola, just like UIC — we have to view it as that, and not a retaliation for last year. It’s in the back of our mind, obviously, but you can’t dwell on it.”

Since a conference-opening loss to Loyola at the ARC, the Crusaders have won three straight games, including back-to-back away games; going into this week, road teams in league games had gone 5-12.

Valparaiso has won three straight road games for the first time since the 2005-06 season, and has not won four since it had a six-game streak in 2003.

Detroit has won 17 consecutive home games, including a 9-0 record this season, since Valparaiso’s 73-71 win last Jan. 6 (the Crusaders also won last season’s game at the ARC, 78-73).

All five starters for the Titans — junior Ray McCallum (19.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists), one of the nation’s premier points guards and the preseason Horizon League Player of the Year over reigning winner Broekhoff; junior guard Jason Calliste (13.9 points); 6-foot-9 senior forward Nick Minnerath (11.9 points, 5.9 rebounds), who played five games last season before missing the rest with a knee injury; high-flying senior forward Doug Anderson (11.1 points, 5.0 rebounds); and sophomore forward Juwan Howard Jr. (10.2 points), who sat out last season after transferring from Western Michigan — average in double-figure scoring. All five have started all 17 games.

Opponents commit 17.2 turnovers per game against Detroit, an average ranked No. 23 nationally, and the Titans’ turnover margin of plus-5.6 was No. 6.

Valparaiso has committed 15.6 turnovers per game, with a 14.3 average in its four Horizon League games. The Crusaders had 18 assists — tied for their second most this season, behind 19 in their season opener against Georgia Southern — in Saturday’s 76-52 win at Milwaukee, against 11 turnovers.

“They’re very athletic, and they get up and down the floor in transition, and a lot of that’s because they force a lot of turnovers,” said Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew, whose team had 18 turnovers in last season’s conference final loss to the Titans.

“They’re very aggressive on defense, so a big part’s going to be us handling the ball and being able to handle their pressure. If we turn it over, they’re going to get a lot of fast breaks, which they’re very good at. … They take those turnovers, and turn them into layups and dunks on the other end.”

The Crusaders are 9-4 against the Titans since joining the Horizon League, including having won those five games in a row before last season’s loss. The teams have met in the conference tournament three straight seasons, with Valparaiso winning the middle game.

“We know what Detroit’s capable of,” Erik Buggs said.

“They’re a very good team, well-coached, have great athletes. Our guys are ready for challenges, and that’s going to be a big challenge.”



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