The second semi-final of the Horizon League tournament featured the regular season champion Valparaiso Crusaders hosting the Butler Bulldogs. Butler advanced to this round with impressive wins over Wright State and Milwaukee, and we Butler supporters hoped that they'd be able to carry that momentum to an upset win and a berth in Tuesday's championship game against Detroit.
I happened to acquire tickets to this game over the internet on Monday morning within minutes of when they went on sale, and planned to cover the tournament for the 800 Games Project whether Butler made it through or not. Upon arrival, I was not terribly surprised to find myself directly in the middle of Valpo season ticket holders. While Butler was fairly well-represented throughout the Athletics-Recreation Center, I turned out to be one of seemingly four Butler fans in the section where I was seated. In talking to one of the Valpo fans, it seemed as if one couple normally seated near them didn't turn in their ticket request forms until a few minutes after the deadline, and one of those tickets instead went to me. I tried to be reasonably low-key and pleasant before the game, but knew that both my popularity and the novelty of my presence would wane considerably once the ball was tipped off.
Personally, the game started off very well for me. Valpo committed three early turnovers, contributing to a 4-0 Butler lead, and a Chrishawn Hopkins jumper shortly thereafter stretched the margin to 7-2. I was happy. Then everything changed.
A long jump shot from Kameron Woods caromed long, leading to a mini-Valpo break and a basket by conference player of the year Ryan Broekhoff. Broekhoff would follow with easy buckets on the next two possessions and the score was suddenly tied. Seven minutes later, Valpo point guard Erik Buggs tipped in his own miss; that capped off a 23-4 Valpo run, and this game was essentially over. There very likely will be another 800GP report on this game with a different point of view, and there will probably be many more happy thoughts found there.
From my perspective, there was not much else to analyze. This was the second time in eight days that the Crusaders defeated Butler convincingly on this court, and they are certainly the better team. Defensively, they understand Butler's offensive weaknesses and do a very good job of exploiting them. Much of that credit has to go to Broekhoff, who has a knack of being in the right place at the right time. He's a very good all-around player, and is deserving of his post-season accolades for much more than just his scoring ability. He finished this game with 19 points and 16 rebounds, but his efforts on the defensive end were just as important to Valpo's success.
For Butler, this was one last missed opportunity. They struggled just enough during the conference season to set themselves up for a very difficult road back to the NCAA tournament, and that road ended abruptly here. While this loss was frustrating and disappointing, it wasn't all that surprising to those of us who've followed the Bulldogs throughout the season. I'll now be left to focus on one of those tournaments that I've largely disregarded over the years, hoping that Butler can string together some wins and build some momentum for a more successful 2012-13 season.
At the last media time-out, with Valpo holding a 60-41 lead, I decided it was time to time to hit the road for the 100+ mile drive back home. That was the first time I'd left a game early all year long. I was actually treated relatively well by the Valpo folks around me, but then, they were in an extremely good mood. Before leaving, I turned to the Valpo fan seated next to me, congratulated her on the win, and wished her team luck the rest of the way. More than anything, regardless of the tournament to which they go, I encouraged her and her fellow fans not to be content just to be there, but to do all they can to root their team on to wins. Among Milwaukee, Butler, and Cleveland State, the Horizon League has won games in seven straight NCAA tournaments, but another team will be relied upon to carry the HL banner this year, and the out-of-conference profiles of both Valpo and Detroit are such that they won't be blessed with a favorable seed. The battle surely will be difficult for them, but the HL representative can count me for support once the Big Dance begins.
VALPARAISO 65, BUTLER 46 03/03/2012
BUTLER 20-14 (11-7) -- C. Hopkins 6-15 5-8 18; R. Nored 1-4 2-4 4; R. Jones 1-3 0-0 2; K. Marshall 1-4 0-0 2; E. Fromm 5-11 2-4 12; A. Smith 0-4 0-0 0; J. Aldridge 1-3 0-0 2; K. Woods 0-1 0-0 0; C. Stigall 0-2 0-0 0; A. Smeathers 1-3 0-0 3; G. Butcher 1-1 1-1 3; A. Barlow 0-0 0-0 0; E. Kampen 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-51 10-17 46. VALPARAISO 22-10 (14-4) -- R. Broekhoff 6-9 5-6 19; J. Harris 3-7 1-2 9; E. Buggs 4-7 1-5 11; W. Bogan 0-2 0-0 0; B. Boggs 1-2 3-4 5; M. Kenney 1-3 0-0 2; K. Van Wijk 4-7 3-4 11; R. Edwards 4-6 0-0 8; N. Shelton 0-0 0-0 0; N. Stegelmann 0-0 0-0 0; H. Vucic 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-43 13-21 65.
Three-point goals: BUTL 2-11 (R. Nored 0-1; C. Stigall 0-2; E. Fromm 0-1; C. Hopkins 1-3; A. Smeathers 1-3; J. Aldridge 0-1), VALP 6-16 (W. Bogan 0-1; E. Buggs 2-3; B. Boggs 0-1; M. Kenney 0-2; R. Broekhoff 2-3; J. Harris 2-5; R. Edwards 0-1); Rebounds: BUTL 20 (E. Fromm 6), VALP 37 (R. Broekhoff 16); Assists: BUTL 9 (R. Nored 4), VALP 11 (M. Kenney 4); Total Fouls -- BUTL 20, VALP 15; Fouled Out: BUTL-None; VALP-None.