Indianapolis, IN – Valparaiso, IN (SportsNetwork.com) - For the second time in the last three seasons, the Valparaiso Crusaders are dancing.
The top-seeded Crusaders earned the Horizon League's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament Tuesday with a 54-44 victory over the second-seeded Green Bay Phoenix in the conference's championship bout at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
David Skara came off the bench to net 12 points to lead Valparaiso (28-5), while E. Victor Nickerson chipped in with 11 points in the win. Keith Carter grabbed a team-best seven rebounds and dished out six assists for Valpo.
Keifer Sykes, the Horizon League Player of the Year, paced Green Bay (24-8) with 14 points. Alfonzo McKinnie netted nine and Jordan Fouse had eight rebounds in the loss - the team's first in its last four outings.
Green Bay held a lead over Valpo until Carter buried a 3-pointer with 8:40 remaining in the contest to give the Crusaders their first lead, 40-39, since a 3-2 advantage in the opening minutes of the game.
The host Crusaders continued to build on that advantage, ballooning the lead to as many as 10 points down the stretch to seal the victory.
Green Bay shot a woeful 2-of-15 from 3-point distance in the loss, and was outdone by the Crusaders in points off turnovers, 17-7.
Valpo grabbed a quick 3-2 lead over Green Bay when Nickerson connected on a bank-shot 3-pointer early on, but from there the Phoenix went on a 10-2 run that lasted nearly five minutes to grab a 12-5 lead they wouldn't surrender the rest of the opening period.
The visitors were able to take a 25-19 lead into the intermission thanks to a late first-half scoring drought by the Crusaders that lasted 6:28. Sykes had eight points in the opening frame to lead Green Bay, while Nickerson netted five to pace Valpo.
Valparaiso picked up its 28th win on the season, which extends its single- season program record ... This is the Crusaders' ninth NCAA Tournament appearance, and second in the past two season ... Valpo held a 25-3 scoring advantage from its bench over Green Bay, and defensively held the Phoenix to 25 percent shooting from the floor in the second half.