The top-seeded Valparaiso Crusaders take aim at their first-ever Horizon League Tournament title, as they play take on the Wright State Raiders in the championship game on Tuesday at the Athletics- Recreation Center.
The Crusaders swept Wright State during the regular season by a combined 10 points. On Jan. 19, Valpo won 69-63 at the ARC led by a double-double by Broekhoff, who scored 18 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. Kevin Van Wijk also scored 18 points while Matt Kenney added 15 with six assists. In the loss, Cole Darling scored a game-high 22 points for Wright State while Reggie Arceneaux added 14. Van Wijk was at it again in the second meeting at Wright State, netting 20 points in a 68-61 victory.
The Crusaders claimed their first Horizon League regular-season title a season ago, winning the crown by two games. They were unable to translate that success into the conference tourney and ended up in the NIT instead of the Big Dance. It looked like Valpo was headed for another undesired trip to the NIT Tournament as it trailed Green Bay by two points with just seconds remaining on Saturday in the semifinals. Ryan Broekhoff drilled a 3-pointer as time expired to send the Crusaders back to the championship game. Broekhoff's clutch 2-pointere helped the Crusaders improve 15-2 at home this season.
Broekhoff (16.2 ppg) is not only the top rebounder for Valpo with 7.4 rpg, he is also first on the squad with 44.0 percent shooting behind the 3-point line, adding 66 assists and 25 blocked shots for good measure. Van Wijk checks in with 12.8 ppg and 5.3 rpg to form a very tough front line. Lavonte Dority and Matt Kenney are valuable role players for Bryce Drew, who was named the HL Coach of the Year after his team's stellar performance. Although Valpo is hosting the title game, it was in the same situation last season before it was upset by Detroit.
Wright State was picked to finish last in the HL preseason polls, but Billy Donlon's squad used the predictions as bulletin board material and enters Tuesday with a 21-11 overall record, which included a solid 10-6 mark in- conference, good enough for the third-seed in this event. Wright State punched its ticket to the finals on Saturday with a 56-54 win over Detroit, marking its third straight victory.
Miles Dixon netted 14 points, including the game-winning jumper in the waning seconds in the second round. It marked the second consecutive 14-point outing for Dixon, who will be in line for the HL Tournament MVP award if the Raiders manage to escape Valparaiso with a win. Also getting into the mix, Jerran Young added 12 points and six rebounds for the Raiders. A championship run is going to be difficult for the Raiders who are even bigger underdogs without their leading scorer Cole Darling, who is still unavailable due to a foot injury.
Without Darling, the Raiders shot 52.4 percent from the floor and 5-of-9 from 3-point range against Detroit. Wright State did a tremendous job defensively as it held the Titans' star players Ray McCallum and Nick Minnerath to a combined 3-of-16 from the field. WSU won the rebounding battle, 27-21, to overcome its 17 turnovers.