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Valpo looks to lock up Horizon’s top seed

Valparaiso University's Players celebrate with fans stands after their defeating Eastern Kentucky during their game held Valparaiso University Saturday February

Valparaiso University's Players celebrate with fans in the stands after their defeating Eastern Kentucky during their game held at Valparaiso University on Saturday February 22, 2013. | Charles Mitchell~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 27, 2013 6:29AM



VALPARAISO — Here’s a little bit of a twist: If Valparaiso wins on its senior night, it is guaranteed to play again at the Athletics-Recreation Center.

A Crusaders home win against Youngstown State on Tuesday night would assure that they would host the Horizon League Tournament as the No. 1 seed, with the attendant double-bye to the semifinals.

Between the possibility of clinching at least a share of the regular-season title; and celebrating a highly accomplished, respected and adored six-member senior class — Erik Buggs, Ryan Broekhoff, Matt Kenney, Kevin Van Wijk, Will Bogan and Ben Boggs — it shapes up to be a memorable occasion, an intriguing confluence of events.

“We’ll probably use it as a little bit of motivation,” Broekhoff said. “We don’t want this to be our last home game here. The journey that we’ve all been through has all been different, so it’s going to have different significance to every player. But I’m going to use it as more motivation that I don’t want this to be the last time I play in front of home fans and on the home court. Hopefully they’ll just view it the same way.”

Buggs will play his 134th game in a Valparaiso uniform, setting the program record, eclipsing the 133 by Howard Little (2007-11).

“We have the opportunity to go out there on a big night, especially for us seniors, and do something that we’ve been talking about since last year,” he said.

“We definitely want to keep our emotions in check. But it’s a big game for us and the community.”

The Crusaders (22-7, 11-3 Horizon League) have gone 19-1 on senior night over the last 20 seasons, with the only loss in that span coming in 2010, to then-No. 15 Butler, the eventual national runner-up. There’s little reason to believe this team won’t add to that tradition, especially with what’s at stake.

“It’s a night to honor the players and their families, so hopefully it will just add to their energy level for this game,” Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew said.

“It’s definitely been a special group. A lot of them came here through different avenues, but they’ve all bonded in such a way that it’s as if they all did come in together as freshmen. I’m sure it will be pretty emotional for several of them and then several people around the program, just because of not only what they’ve been able so far to accomplish in their careers on the court, but also what they’ve accomplished off the court, just with the type of students they are, the type of people they are around campus.”

When Valparaiso traveled to Youngstown State’s campus earlier this season, the Penguins (16-12, 7-7) came away with an 80-68 win on Jan. 30, their second straight in the series after the Crusaders had won each of the first 10 games since joining the Horizon League. Matt Kenney was limited to six scoreless minutes because of back problems, and Broekhoff shot 3-of-10 for 10 points for the Crusaders, who went 3-of-20 from 3-point range.

Kendrick Perry had 28 points and a career-high 11 rebounds in that game, but was not expected to play in this game after injuring his knee in practice on Wednesday. The standout guard is averaging 16.9 points (second in the league), 4.1 assists (fifth) and 2.0 steals (first).

Damian Eargle (11.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, league-high 3.2 blocked shots) returned for the Penguins on Saturday, scoring 10 points in 14 minutes before fouling out of their 86-75 BracketBusters win against Central Michigan. He had missed the previous two games after undergoing surgery to repair a broken nose.

Valparaiso’s seniors will be recognized before the game and address the crowd following it, with Tommy Kurth, whose playing career was cut short by medical issues, also part of the festivities.

“Senior Night’s going to be a great night either way, but our main focus is to win, and to win the regular season and give ourselves the best chance to do well in the conference tournament,” Broekhoff said.



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