Game #9-402: Detroit Titans at Valparaiso CrusadersFebruary 16, 2013 6:00 pm
I'm here to make a shameful confession as a Butler fan. I miss the Horizon League.While I do enjoy building potential rivalries with new teams in the Atlantic 10, the current sixteen team league allows for a home-and-home series with only one conference opponent. In some respects, it feels like playing an independent schedule against a bunch of teams that I've known little or nothing about from the recent past. In contrast, the Horizon League allows the opportunity for a double round robin scheduling format, so you know the league will crown a true champion. I still know the coaches in that league, their styles of play, and their key players, and part of me wishes that my team was still a part of that.
My schedule appears that it will allow me to attend only this one Horizon League game this season, but I think I selected the right one. Valparaiso and Detroit are now the dominant programs in the conference, and quite truthfully, they had both assumed that status last year while Butler was still a member; Detroit swept the season series against the Bulldogs, while Valpo beat Butler in what would be its last HL tournament and completed a three-game sweep themselves.
As I entered the ARC for the first time since last year's HL semi-finals, so much felt the same, yet so much was different. Like going back to a place that I used to work, or returning to my old school after I graduated, I recognized people, I saw many familiar things, and part of me felt very comfortable in that place. On the other hand, I noticed a few new people and some new things that were not there before, and I recognized that these old friends have moved on from the time and place that I recalled so fondly. I don't really belong here anymore. However, the ticket office had already accepted my money and admitted me, so I settled in and watched in virtual silence, though still with a high amount of interest.
While they have had a good recent history of competitive contests, these two teams have really ramped up a strong rivalry over the past thirteen months:
January 6, 2012: Valpo at Detroit. Detroit, the prohibitive pre-conference favorites, had gotten off to a terrible start to the season, due to a combination of suspensions, injuries, and general dysfunctional play. With three losses in their first four conference games, Valpo entered Calihan Hall with what seemed like a chance for an early-round knockout of the vaunted Titans. Coming back from a twelve-point first half deficit, VU pulled even early in the second half, and the two foes traded the lead throughout the second half. With the score tied, Detroit's Chase Simon was called for a controversial charging foul with 4.6 seconds remaining. VU's Erik Buggs took the inbounds pass, drove the length of the floor, and scored on a lay-up just before the final horn. Valpo won the decision 73-71, but did not get the knockout.
February 2, 2012: Detroit at Valpo. Despite their dreadful start to conference play, Detroit entered this game above .500 in conference play, and a win here would have brought them to within one game of the league leading Crusaders. The Titans were highly efficient in the first half, and a couple of early second-half baskets gave them a ten-point lead. Valpo fought back, and took the lead with about four minutes to go on a Ryan Broekhoff three-pointer, which was the last of VU's twelve superhoops on the night. VU pulled away with late free throws, and came away with a 78-73 win.
March 6, 2012: HL Championship at Valpo. After the loss at Valpo, Detroit would win nine of their next ten contests, including a three win-in-five day HL tournament gauntlet to land themselves in this championship game. Behind a raucous home crowd, VU controlled nearly the entire first half, jumping out to a 25-16 lead, and giving every impression that they were ready to cap off an outstanding conference season with an NCAA tournament berth. However, the Titans closed out the half on an 8-2 run. Just over four minutes into the second half, Ray McCallum hit a jump shot to give the Titans the lead, and they never again trailed. Detroit closed the game on a 12-0 run to pull away to a 70-50 win, capping the strong performance on a last-minute three-pointer by Jason Calliste and a last-second uncontested dunk by McCallum, the latter of which came after all of the other players had headed over for postgame handshakes. McCallum's dunk, and his resulting emotional display, continues to be well-remembered throughout the Valparaiso community. After the game, to add insult to injury, several homes and street signs around the VU campus were vandalized with "313 Go Titans", in reference to the victor's area code. That too continues to be well-remembered by those associated with Valpo.
January 17, 2013: Valpo at Detroit. In a battle to claim the early season conference lead, Detroit came out with another highly efficient first half. Led by 21 points from Nick Minnerath, the Titans took a 48-32 lead at the break, and stretched the lead to 21 with 17:00 to go. Valpo fought back and cut the lead down to single digits on a few occasions. A Minnerath basket with three minutes left gave Detroit a seemingly comfortable 88-77 lead, but Valpo went on a 12-0 run, keyed by back-to-back three-pointers from Matt Kenney. When Evan Bruinsma and Minnerath both missed three-pointers in the final seconds, Valpo escaped with an improbable 89-88 victory,
The arena was tightly packed right at tipoff, and I found myself in the mezzanine level where leg room was almost non-existent. I had one knee in my back and another in my left ribcage throughout the game, but I couldn't complain too much, as I'm sure I was causing just as much discomfort to the people in front of me. In spite of this nuisance, it was a thrill to see a full house at the ARC, particularly an overflowing student and band section, all protected by The Great Crusader.
Memories from last March were very prominent, as a number of students promoted their area code in their own way. As one who grew up in the 219, I must admit that I enjoyed these signs a little more than should have been appropriate!
From the outset, the latest episode in this soap opera looked to be completely lacking in drama, which given the recent history, should have been foreboding to all in attendance. Two early three-pointers from Broekhoff staked the Crusaders to an 8-2 lead, which they eventually extended to 30-20. Valpo was brilliant in its halfcourt offense, screening and cutting with great precision, and making extra passes to get open shots. Detroit was struggling to execute on either end of the floor, and were generally outrebounded by a two-to-one margin throughout most of the first half. Two first half sequences summed up the action of that period quite nicely:
Trailing 30-20, Detroit's Doug Anderson intercepted a lazy pass from Will Bogan, and passed to Calliste to initiate a three-on-one fast break. With Anderson, one of the most explosive dunkers in the country out on the wing for this fast break, the Valpo crowd rose in unison to see what might go down. As he approached the basket, Calliste realized that Anderson was too close to him, so at the last second, he flipped an awkward finger roll to the goal. The ball rolled out, and while Anderson was able to chase down the rebound, the Valpo defense then had caught up to the play, and the Titans ended up with an empty possession.
With the score at 32-22, Broekhoff collected an offensive rebound and was fouled by McCallum. On the resulting inbound pass, Buggs made a sharp cut into the lane, received the pass, and kicked it out to an open Bogan in the corner, who then passed to an even more open Kenney on the wing. His three-pointer gave Valpo its largest lead at the time.
Minnerath quietly scored three baskets for Detroit in the final minutes of the half, but the Titans couldn't get anything on their final three possessions before the break. Two free throws from LaVonte Dority gave Valpo a 37-26 lead at intermission.
In the first ten minutes of the second half, I thought Erik Buggs was the best player on the court. He's often criticized for his inability to consistently make a shot from the perimeter, but he's almost certainly the fastest player in this conference. In the past, Detroit would have enforcers like LaMarcus Lowe and Eli Holman protecting the basket to neutralize a speedster like Buggs and his ability to drive to the basket. Without the two big men and their shot blocking ability, Detroit appears more vulnerable to Buggs this season. During this ten-minute stretch of play, Buggs scored on four layups and dished out three assists, consistently getting by McCallum with the dribble.
The last of Buggs' assists came on a kick out to Bogan, whose three-pointer gave Valpo a 60-46 lead with 10:15 remaining in the game. Bogan came off a screen set by reserve big man Bobby Capobianco to make the shot. As Calliste rushed over to try to contest the shot, he ran through Capobianco, pushing him in the neck and shoulders with his forearms. I didn't really sense any harmful intent, but after review, that was appropriately called as a flagrant foul. With two free throws and possession on top of the Bogan three-pointer, this was Valpo's opportunity to put the game away. Capobianco was only able to make one of the two free throws, and then he was called for an offensive foul by throwing an elbow to gain position. Opportunity wasted.
Calliste and Kenney then traded foul-line area jump shots, leaving Valpo with a 63-48 lead with 9:00 to go. After a couple of missed shots by Detroit, Buggs picked up his fourth foul while contesting a rebound, and had to go to the bench. From that moment on, everything changed, and changed dramatically. I still don't know whether it was the Titans responding to the flagrant foul call, the missed opportunity by Valpo, the elbows of Capobianco, the foul trouble on Buggs, or simply Ray McCallum willing his team on to a fantastic comeback, but Detroit concluded this game with nine of the most dominant minutes I have ever seen.
Beginning with the aforementioned jump shot from Calliste, Detroit had nineteen possessions before dribbling out the final seconds of the victory. They scored on eighteen of those possessions (the other was turned over on a held ball), for a total of 38 points. Following the fourth foul call on Buggs, Valpo had eight consecutive possessions with the following results: turnover, turnover, turnover, missed three-pointer, missed layup, missed layup, turnover, turnover. Buggs was reinserted after the third turnover in that stretch, and then he missed the three-pointer (probably not the shot they were seeking) and one of the layups. After Broekhoff missed the other layup, Calliste used a shot fake, drew contact from Buggs and knocked down the superhoop. Calliste converted the four-point play to tie the score, Buggs had fouled out, and the comeback was complete. By the time Broekhoff went to the line with 3:20 to go, Detroit had converted the 63-48 deficit into a 67-63 lead. In all five offensive possessions without Buggs, the Crusaders had turnovers.
With their tremendous offensive efficiency, Detroit would go on to an 84-74 win. About 90% of the hometown crowd filed out in stunned silence, while the remainder exchanged chants with the small (and suddenly vocal) contingent of Detroit supporters, reminding them of the current order of the league standings. Valpo still holds the inside track towards capturing the HL regular season title, and with it the homecourt advantage for the conference tournament. Each team should have a real sense of urgency over these next few weeks - for Valpo, all five starters and their sixth man are seniors; for Detroit, Minnerath and Calliste are both seniors, and the junior McCallum definitely has NBA aspirations. There's really no tomorrow for these two teams.
I left the ARC wondering how the Crusaders will be able to bounce back from this collapse. I expect them to respond well, and eventually clinch the top seed for the HL tournament. I also expect Detroit to advance through to meet them in the championship game. If/when that occurs, and if/when Valpo has a second-half lead with an NCAA tournament berth on the line, and if/when Detroit strings together a couple of baskets in a row to cut into that lead, how will the two teams then respond? The stage is set for the next episode of this soap opera. Tune in on March 12 to see how it turns out.
DETROIT 84, at VALPARAISO 74
DETROIT 18-9 (10-4) -- J. Calliste 5-10 8-9 21; R. McCallum 6-15 3-4 15; N. Minnerath 10-16 0-0 21; J. Howard Jr. 0-4 3-4 3; E. Bruinsma 5-6 2-2 12; D. Anderson 4-6 0-2 8; U. Njoku 1-2 0-0 2; P. Boutte 1-1 0-0 2; A. Wilson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 32-60 16-21 84.
VALPARAISO 20-7 (10-3) -- R. Broekhoff 3-10 2-2 10; W. Bogan 5-8 0-0 15; M. Kenney 6-8 2-4 18; K. Van Wijk 5-5 0-0 10; E. Buggs 6-12 0-0 12; L. Dority 1-8 2-2 4; B. Boggs 1-3 0-0 2; B. Capobianco 1-2 1-2 3. Totals 28-56 7-10 74.
Three-point goals: UDM 4-8 (J. Calliste 3-4; R. McCallum 0-3; N. Minnerath 1-1), VALP 11-27 (W. Bogan 5-8; E. Buggs 0-2; B. Boggs 0-2; M. Kenney 4-6; R. Broekhoff 2-7; L. Dority 0-2); Rebounds: UDM 27 (E. Bruinsma 10), VALP 25 (K. Van Wijk 9); Assists: UDM 18 (R. McCallum 6), VALP 16 (E. Buggs 8); Total Fouls -- UDM 15, VALP 20; Fouled Out: UDM-None; VALP-E. Buggs.
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