Hutton: After long wait, Valparaiso’s moment finally arrives
By Mike Hutton 648-3139 or email@example.com March 12, 2013 10:58PM
Wright State move up court against Valparaiso in the first half during the Horizon League Tournament Championship at Valparaiso University Tuesday night. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 14, 2013 6:44AM
VALPARAISO — How do you prepare for the moment? For Valparaiso University, the chance to have a chance at the moment was all it took for the Crusaders to play like the end of the world was close Wednesday in the first half of the Horizon League Tournament title game.
There was a tidal wave of energy and an endless reserve of composure coming from the Crusaders early. There was a second-half breakdown, but then a rally. This time, though, there was no Ray McCallum Jr. to deal with and no one got hurt, like Kevin Van Wijk did last year against Detroit in the championship game. All the Crusaders had to do was to figure out how to get back to the place they were at when they started the game.
And they did after a series of turnovers and a bad stretch in the second half when they couldn’t find the basket.
The Athletic-Recreation Center was bloated with gold t-shirts and hyper fans, solidly in VU’s corner. They sensed that the moment for them was imminent.
The Crusaders, in essence, had been preparing for this moment, this day, since the minute they joined the Horizon League in 2007. They left the Summit League, then the Mid-Continent Conference, as the perennial favorite — the Yankees of the Mid-Con, former Buffalo coach Tim Cohane famously and sarcastically said after VU beat the Bulls in conference tourney in 1998. Was that sort of like being the best cook at Taco Bell?
The new kids on the block, VU arrived in the HL as just another team, another program that had a chance at the moment. This is not easy to do — to go from being the team to just another team.
But the program has diligently paid its dues the last six seasons, securing the No.1 seed for the last two seasons.
The Crusaders had prepared for this moment by feeling incredibly grateful and lucky, yes, lucky to be in this position again after Ryan Broekhoff made an impossible, drifting, elevated 3-pointer over a Green Bay defender at the buzzer.
The moment looked so golden and shiny and ripe for the taking for VU in the first half.
The Crusaders made 14-of-23 from the field and Erik Buggs, who had a forgettable game last year against Detroit, sliced his way through the Wright State defense like he was a halfback.
Then intermission was rude to VU. Wright State replaced two of its starters and Buggs, who never met a jump shot he really liked, couldn’t find the seams anymore. And the Crusaders turned the ball over. And over again, particularly when they tried to jam the ball inside to Broekhoff or Van Wijk. It looked like VU got itself into a terrible, awful mess when the Crusaders surrendered their 11-point halftime lead when Reggie Arcenaux hit a 3-pointer with 9:25 left that gave the Raiders a 45-42 lead.
But VU responded this time. Buggs responded, the crowd responded.
The Crusaders were ready for the moment this time.
Buggs stole a pass and made a layup to cut the lead to two with 4:22 left.
Then he made two free throws after a he was fouled when he found a sliver of space inside, tying the game with 3:59 left
He saved his most spectacular play for later when he drove down the middle. Two Wright State defenders jumped over to try to stop him and he whipped the ball in the corner to Broekhoff for a 3-pointer that sealed the moment for VU with 1:49 left.
The Crusaders were finally going back to the NCAA Tournament, for the first time since 2004 — this time as Horizon League champions. The moment had come and the fans had spilled onto the floor and the players were jumping in their arms, going crazy with them. It was the only 3-pointer of the night for Broekhoff, who had brought the Crusaders to this moment with his impossible shot against Green Bay. While Broekhoff struggled this time, Buggs finished with a career high 22 points. They both wanted this moment to be a happy and joyous one for the team and the fans.
“It means a lot to finally get to the NCAA,” Buggs said. “We’re living a dream. We’re finally at the show.”
The truth is, you can’t really prepare for the moment, not one like that., where Bryce Drew gets to watch his father, Homer, cut part of the net down.
Where they all get at least one more chance to have one more unforgettable moment before the season ends and everybody goes their separate ways. These moments are meant to be cherished and savored, never forgotten and tucked way in a special corner, and called upon for a lift or just for the heck of it.