Erik Buggs scored a career-high 22 points, Will Bogan added 14 and top-seeded Valparaiso closed with an 18-4 run to rally past Wright State 62-54 on Tuesday night in the Horizon League tournament championship game.
The win sends the Crusaders (26-7) back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004 with a six-game winning streak and the school's single-season record for victories. The previous mark of 25 was set in 2001-02 when coach Bryce Drew's father, Homer, was coaching the Crusaders.
Reggie Arceneaux scored 14 points for the Raiders (21-12), who rallied from a 36-25 halftime deficit to take a 50-44 lead with 5:25 to go.
But the mistake-prone Crusaders regrouped late, retaking the lead when Buggs made one of two free throws with 2:53 to play and not giving up another point until 8.3 seconds remained.
For Valparaiso, it's a journey that took two years to complete.
After winning last season's regular-season conference crown, the Crusaders seemed poised to end their NCAA tourney drought. All they had to do was beat Detroit, which was swept by Valpo during the regular season, in the championship game at home. Instead, the Crusaders played their worst game of the conference season, got beat 70-50 and wound up on the outside.
Tuesday night's game looked like an exact duplicate on paper.
After winning a second straight league crown, the Crusaders earned the right to host a Wright State team they had swept during the regular season.
This time, they nearly allowed the game to slip away again.
After using an early 11-0 run to take control and build the 11-point halftime lead, they nearly gave it away in the second half when they committed turnover after turnover.
Wright State opened the second half by scoring the first five points and finally tied it at 40 and again at 42.
That's when Arceneaux hit a 3-pointer to give Wright State a 45-42 lead, its first since 3-2. Jerran Young followed with a dunk and when Matt Vest knocked down a 3-pointer with 5:35 to play, Wright State led 50-44.
Valpo finally rallied with a short jumper in the paint from Kevin Van Wijk, a steal and layup from Buggs and two free throws from Buggs to tie the score at 50 with 3:59 left. Valpo retook the lead on Buggs' free throw and got a 3-poiinter from Ryan Broekhoff with 1:47 left for a 54-50 lead as they pulled away.
Buggs was named the tournament MVP.