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Mutka: Valpo, Detroit trade games in which they blew big leads

Valparaiso University's Matt Kenney drives basket passt Detroit Titans's Evan Bruinsmn(left) during their game held Valparaiso University Saturday February 16

Valparaiso University's Matt Kenney drives to the basket passt Detroit Titans's Evan Bruinsmna (left) during their game held at Valparaiso University on Saturday February 16, 2013. | Charles Mitchell~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 19, 2013 6:39AM



Safe lead in basketball? Don’t be silly. No such thing.

Check out the heated Detroit-Valparaiso series.

First, Valparaiso trailed by 22 in the second half at Detroit.

Then, Detroit lagged by 15 with 9 minutes left at Valparaiso.

Both teams rallied to win. In game one, VU scored the last 12 points to snap Detroit’s 17-game home winning streak. Saturday, the Titans erupted for 19 consecutive points, blanking VU from the field for eight minutes and 29 seconds to erase a 63-48 deficit.

Five Crusaders hit double figures in the stunning collapse. Go figure.

“It’s unexplainable,” said guard Matt Kenney, who led them with 18 points. “We shared the ball pretty well. Just that one stretch killed us. Like coach said we won for 30 minutes, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t win the last 10.”

Their first-place celebration party put on hold, the Crusaders (20-7, 10-3) still control their own destiny, but Detroit (18-9, 10-4) shaved their Horizon League lead to a half-game.

“We’ve got to put this one behind us,” Kenney said. “We’ve got three games left to wrap this up.”

Unfortunately, two of them are on the road. On Tuesday the Crusaders travel to Loyola, which upset them on Jan. 2. After a home game with Youngstown State on Feb. 16, they finish the regular season at Green Bay on March 2.

Credit Detroit’s defensive intensity with pulling a rabbit out of the hat. The Titans forced five turnovers to disrupt VU during that 19-0 stretch.

“We got off to a slow start,” said guard Ray McCallum Jr., who scored seven of his 15 points during the run. “We’re a defensive-minded team. It’s been a major reason for our success.

“At our place we had it (won) and we kind of let up. This time we kept chipping away.”

The coach’s son seemed to be everywhere, silencing a sellout crowd of 5,166. In that stretch he fed high-point man Nick Minnerath (21 points) for a layup, scored on a steal, grabbed a rebound and stuck a jumper to boost Detroit’s advantage to 74-66 with 1:09 left.

“I had to do something,” he said. “Get steals, do anything I could to get us back into the game.”

Detroit blitzed the hosts 58-37 in the second half and limited VU ace Ryan Broekhoff to one basket in the last 38 minutes.

“We focused on their scorers,” said coach Ray McCallum Sr. “We’ve always been a strong second-half team except for the first Valpo game.”

As is often the case in big games, unlikely heroes rise to the occasion.

Sixth-man Evan Bruinsma, Detroit’s only significant sub on a depth-less team, energized the Titans with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

“That’s crazy. It was big for us,” McCallum Jr. said. “Evan’s been banged up the last couple of weeks but stayed with it.”

Quite an unexpected double-double from someone who came in averaging fewer than five points and five rebounds.

“(Starter) Doug Anderson was under the weather,” said McCallum Sr., explaining Bruinsma’s expanded role. “Evan’s been through the wars and he took up the slack.”

Detroit has only two conference games left with 10 days to prepare for Loyola (Feb. 26) and a road game with UIC (March 2).

“We’d love to have that No. 1 seed,” said McCallum Sr., who took the Titans to the NCAA tournament last year, earning an automatic bid by beating VU at the ARC.

To steel Detroit for conference hostilities he beefed up the degree of difficulty by scheduling ACC leader Miami (20-3), Pittsburgh (20-6), Syracuse (21-4) and St. John’s (15-10). The Titans lost all four games but were competitive, particularly in a 72-68 loss to Syracuse, which was ranked No. 3 at the time.

“That definitely prepared us,” McCallum Jr. acknowledged.

He got the last laugh over VU students, who taunted the junior guard with derisive “Daddy’s Boy” chants whenever he lined up for a free throw.

They might reconsider arousing Detroit’s main man after his sleepy first half. He’s been the Titans’ leading scorer for the last two years and their tournament MVP last March. McCallum boosted his career total to 1,505 points.

Overdue honor: No assistant coach has never been honored with a lifetime achievement award before at the Sportsmanship basketball banquet.

In Joe Burleson’s case, banquet spokesman John Friend offered 49 reasons for remedying that oversight. Forty-nine as in the number of years Burleson has served as River Forest’s junior varsity basketball coach.

“He reminds me of Eddie Robertson, who coached (several sports) at Munster for years,” Friend noted. “Eddie was in it because he loved kids.

“Joe’s one of those guys in coaching for the right reason.”

Taking his cue from RF basketball coach Jason Quigg, Friend describes Burleson as very humble.

“He’s got no ego,” Friend said.

River Forest is one of 29 schools which will be represented tonight at Villa Cesare restaurant in Schererville. The 59th annual Sportsmanship banquet, which precedes sectional basketball tournament play, will start at 6:30 p.m.

Ball State football coach Pete Lembo is the featured speaker. In his second year with the program he guided the Cardinals to a 9-4 record. They also appeared in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl, losing to Central Florida 38-17.

Under Lembo, the Cardinals have also beaten Indiana twice.

Scratch the Jaguars: IUPUI would seem to be a logical replacement for Butler, which reduced the Horizon League to nine schools by bolting for the Atlantic 10 after last season. Not likely, though, since IUPUI’s facilities are subpar and it lacks a baseball program.

UIC athletic director Jay Schmidt expects the league to extend invitations in the near-future, though.

“Scheduling for nine schools is too tough,” he explained.



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