The Cleveland State Vikings and Valparaiso Crusaders squared off on Thursday night at the Wolstein Center in one of the most important games of the season for both teams. While the Vikings’ season-opening victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores may have been extremely important with regards to quality wins that are considered by the NCAA Tournament selection committee, the Vikings’ best route to the NCAA Tournament is to win the Horizon League Tournament. In order to maintain their hold on first place in the Horizon League, have the opportunity to host the Horizon League Tournament, and secure an automatic spot in the tournament semifinals, the Vikings needed to defeat the Crusaders, who currently are in second place in the Horizon League.
Unfortunately for the Vikings and their fans, the Crusaders used a barrage of outside shooting to defeat the Vikings on their home floor by a score of 59-41.
The large Wolstein Center crowd was silenced early in the game as the Crusaders ran out to an 11-1 lead. Ryan Broekhoff scored all of the Crusaders’ points while the Vikings missed multiple layups and played nothing like the team who has dominated the Horizon League in recent weeks. The Crusaders gradually extended their lead throughout the middle of the first half as the Vikings missed several shots from close range.
After the Crusaders extended their lead to 20 points, the Vikings rebounded with a 9-1 run to close the half and head into the locker room trailing by 12 points. Tim Kamczyc scored four of the Vikings’ points during this run and contributed to the Vikings’ solid defensive effort against Broekhoff, who only scored three points in the first half following his 11 point barrage to open the game.
Anticipation of a Vikings comeback filled the air when the Vikings took the floor in the second half. However, the Crusaders simply refused to back down. Two quick 3-pointers by the Crusaders pushed their lead to 16 points within the first minute of the second half. Although the Vikings continued to battle, the Crusaders slowly extended their lead throughout the course of the second half. With slightly more than 12 minutes remaining, the Crusaders had built a seemingly insurmountable 21 point lead. Undaunted, the Vikings narrowed the gap to 13 points with 7:43 remaining in the second half. Unfortunately for the Vikings and their fans, the Vikings were able to pull no closer. Despite the fact that the Vikings forced the Crusaders into 17 turnovers, the Vikings’ abysmal 25.9% shooting kept them from earning a comeback victory.
Both teams dealt with major injury issues during the game. The Vikings’ D’Aundray Brown, one of the team’s best defenders, was only able to play eight minutes as he could not overcome a painful groin injury that kept him out of action on Sunday. Kevin Van Wijk, one of the Crusaders’ best players, only played 7 minutes before he departed with what appeared to be a serious leg injury.
Broekhoff led all scorers with 24 points. Jeremy Montgomery led the Vikings with 15 points. No other player for the Vikings scored in double figures.
The Vikings will need to forget this loss and recover quickly if they intended to maintain their hold on second place in the Horizon League, as the Butler Bulldogs will be coming to the Wolstein Center for a nationally televised contest on ESPNU that will tip off at 11:00AM. The Crusaders will travel to Youngstown for a matchup with the improved Youngstown State Penguins on Saturday night.