Crusaders net big road win; can clinch HL title Saturday
By Michael Osipoff 648-3137 or firstname.lastname@example.org February 12, 2013 11:18PM
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For more on Valparaiso’s win, vist posttrib.suntimes.com/sports.
Updated: March 14, 2013 6:50AM
DAYTON, Ohio — Every time Wright State made a move, Valparaiso had the counter.
And now the Crusaders are one step closer to wrapping up the regular-season Horizon League title.
Valparaiso held off Wright State 68-61 on Tuesday night at the Nutter Center, never trailing but having to make play after play to snag the hard-fought road win. Three times, the Raiders (17-9, 8-5 Horizon League) closed to two points in the second half; three times, the Crusaders (20-6, 10-2) responded.
“Every time we had a huddle, we came together, mostly the seniors, and said we needed to get a stop, because we knew if we gave up the lead, it would be hard to come back,” Kevin Van Wijk said.
With the win against Wright State, which entered the game tied for second place with Detroit, Valparaiso — which has reached 20 wins for the 13th time in the last 20 seasons; and improved to 8-5 on the road, guaranteeing its first .500 or above away record for the first time since the 2001-02 season — can clinch at least a share of the regular-season league championship by defeating the Titans on Saturday at the ARC. Detroit (17-9) upped its conference record to 9-4 by beating Cleveland State on Tuesday.
“This win was huge,” Matt Kenney said. “It’s almost like a trap game, with Detroit at home on Saturday, it’s probably going to be sold out. We didn’t want to overlook this game, just don’t think ahead. We knew if we got this one and if we can get Detroit, we can finish the rest of the three (games) out, which would be great not only for winning the league, but also carrying momentum into the Horizon League Tournament too. That would be huge, getting the No. 1 seed, playing at home, getting the two bye games. So this was just a very big game.”
Said Van Wijk: “Obviously, every win you get in the Horizon League is big. … Having them a game further behind is always a big advantage. But we still have a lot to do before what we want to accomplish.”
The Crusaders led by as much as 32-19 with 2:39 left in the first half, when Erik Buggs completed a three-point play to cap a 10-0 run. In the second half, they led by as much as 40-30, when Kenney hit a jumper with 16:59 left.
But the Raiders wouldn’t go away. They drew to 51-49 when Cole Darling scored with 10:23 left; Van Wijk hit two free throws with 9:48 left. They drew to 53-51 when Miles Dixon scored with 9:12 left; Ryan Broekhoff hit two free throws with 8:56 left. They drew to 57-55 when A.J. Pacher hit two free throws with 6:11 left; Kenney hit two free throws with 5:58 left.
Van Wijk made two free throws with 1:29 left to make it 64-59, and Broekhoff blocked a shot — his second clutch block late in the game — with 1:19 left. Then, with the shot clock winding down, Kenney knocked down a jumper with 44.6 seconds left.
Kenney said he actually thought there was more time on the shot clock until someone from the bench yelled that there were six seconds left, prompting him to make a move.
“I went to the middle to try to create something, saw an opening and rose up,” he said. “We work on pull-ups all the time.”
Van Wijk had 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting and nine rebounds. Kenney had 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting and five rebounds; and Broekhoff had 10 points on 3-of-12 shooting, five rebounds and three blocks.
The Crusaders’ 68 points represented their lowest offensive output in a league win this season; their previous low had been in their 69-63 decision over the Raiders on Jan. 19 at the ARC.
“We knew coming in what a challenge this would be, how good Wright State is, how they execute their offense and how good they are on defense,” Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew said. “We knew that every point, every possession, was going to be valuable.”
Pacher scored a career-high 23 points for Wright State, and Dixon added 13.
“They (the Crusaders) made plays at the end,” Pacher said. “They did everything they needed to do to win at the end of the game.”