|Posted by Brian Dickmann on January 18, 2017 at 12:10 AM|
Photo: Sue Ogrocki / AggieSports.com
If there was any question on who the class of the Horizon League is at the moment, the Valparaiso Crusaders provided an emphatic answer Monday night with a dominant 80-56 blowout victory over the Green Bay Phoenix at the Athletics-Recreation Center in Valparaiso.
It was the first meeting between the two teams since the Phoenix ended Valpo’s NCAA Tournament dreams last season at the Horizon League Tournament semifinals in Detroit and the Crusaders had revenge on their minds.
“They broke our hearts last year, no doubt about it,” Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich said after the game. “You remember that for sure. As a coach, I’m always looking for stuff that can be motivational.”
“We’re a new team but we do have some key members that are back from last year’s team so there are moments to reflect on that and push buttons if we need to.”
To be sure, Monday night’s game was big for both sides. But after Valparaiso suffered a home loss last week to Oakland and with Green Bay on a 7 game win streak sitting alone in first place, the game meant more for the Crusaders. So while revenge was on their minds, Valpo needed to avoid falling two games behind in the standings with two home losses to what will likely be two of the top three teams in the Horizon League.
“The bigger picture was we had a first-place team coming into our building,” Lottich said. “We have goals of winning this league and we had to win this game. We did that.”
Green Bay (11-7, 5-1 Horizon League) entered the game as the only undefeated team remaining in the conference and on a 7 game winning streak. Things were dicey right from the get go for the Phoenix though as the Crusaders raced out to a 24-9 lead halfway through the first half.
GB was able to claw back to within four at 32-28 with a minute left in the half before Valpo junior Max Joseph hit a backbreaking three pointer at the buzzer to send the Crusaders into the locker room with a seven point lead at 35-28.
Valparaiso (15-4, 5-1) would use a 17-0 run during the second half to pull away, leading by as much as 32 with 5:22 left to play before Green Bay whittled it down the final 24 point margin at 80-56.
As they normally are, the Crusaders were led by their star NBA prospect, Alec Peters.
The 6’9” Peters scored 20 points and grabbed a career high 16 rebounds in the game, becoming the program’s all-time leader in career rebounds. He is also just 6 points shy of passing Bryce Drew for the program lead in career points.
“Just try to make everything he takes a tough shot, you try not to give him wide open looks,” Green Bay head coach Linc Darner said when he was asked on WNFL before the game how Green Bay could possibly slow the Valpo star. “Nobody has slowed him down really this year, he’s 2nd in the nation in scoring.”
“I think the key is not letting other guys have big nights. You know he’s going to get his points, it’s trying to keep the other guys from getting there’s that’s probably the bigger key.”
Unfortunately for Green Bay, Valpo had four players score in double figures led by Peters’ 20. The Crusaders shot 46.4% from the floor and 40.9% from beyond the arc in the game while turning it over just 8 times.
Valparaiso also hammered the Phoenix on the glass and in the paint, outrebounding Green Bay 51-39 and owning points in the paint 40-24.
“I was pumped up for this game for other reasons based on what happened to us last March,” Peters said. “Me along with the guys returning talked about it at shoot around and talked about it yesterday at practice. I’ve been waiting for this one, they’ve been waiting for this one since last March.”
“You try to move forward, you try to think we have a new team. The reality is they’re also sitting in first place. They’re a team that that looked like ruined our season last year. There’s always that extra special, not hate, but that extra special energy that you get from that and that extra special motivation.”
Green Bay entered the game leading the conference in scoring at over 80 points per game but were held to a season low 54 on Monday night. The 24 point margin was Green Bay’s largest loss of the season.
The Phoenix shot 31.0% from the floor, their lowest since the season opening loss at Pacific when they shot 30.4%, and attempted just 9 free throws during the game – also a season low.
Green Bay was led by Jamar Hurdle (11 points, 2 rebounds) and Kerem Kanter (10 points, 4 rebounds).
The Phoenix are now tied for first in the Horizon League with Valparaiso at 5-1 and a game ahead of Oakland (14-5, 4-2), who dropped their 2nd home game in a row on Monday night when they lost to Cleveland State at the O'rena. UIC (10-8, 3-2) also only has 2 losses in conference play.
The Phoenix return home to the Resch Center for a pair of must win games against Youngstown State on Friday and Cleveland State on Monday. Green Bay swept the two schools last month to open the conference season.
Following the short 2-game home stand Green Bay will play 6 of the next 8 games on the road.
Categories: Game Recaps