The Valparaiso Men's Basketball team won the 2014-15 Horizon League Men's Basketball Championship last night, beating the Wisconsin Green Bay Phoenix 54-44. The win gives the Crusaders an automatic invite to the 2015 NCAA Men's Tournament against an opponent to be named Sunday on the NCAA Selection Show.
Freshman David Skara led the scoring with 12 points, including several key shots at crucial moments of the game, but the key moment that turned the tide in the game was Senior leader Vashil Fernandez's dunk to end the first half. The dunk cut the Green Bay lead to 25-19, but more importantly brought a special energy to the team and the crowd that carried over into the second half.
The game was hard fought throughout the entire 40 minutes, highlighted by gritty defense from both teams and answer-for-answer baskets that never allowed either team to pull away from their opponent.
Valparaiso didn't secure their first lead until there were seven minutes remaining in the second half, but once they did they never looked back; outscoring the Phoenix 8-2 in the final minutes to end the game and punch their ticket to the "Big Dance".
We were there at the ARC live blogging all of the action last night, from the opening tip to the cutting of the nets. Check out our live blog below and relive all the madness from this special night.
Hello, and welcome to the Live Blog of tonight's Horizon League MBB Championship Game between Valparaiso and Wisconsin Green Bay! I'm Lifer Steve and I'll be guiding you through all of tonight's action as it unfolds in real time.
Starters tonight for the Crusaders: Fernandez, Peters, D. Walker, T. Walker, and Nickerson. Tip off is underway!
Energy is electric as Valpo hits a three to start the game, while Keifer Sykes answers back for Green Bay in the early minutes. These two teams are playing fast and physical. Just as you would expect from a championship game. Valpo hits a little cold shooting streak, but Alec Peters is putting the team on his shoulders. It's 10-5, Green Bay with 15:09 to play in the first half.
[12:08 First Half] Skara hits a big three to get the crowd back into it, and Green Bay answers right back with three of their own. 15-8 Green Bay.
[ 9:30 first half] Valpo's cold shooting start is starting to heat up! Big baskets by Skara and Fernandez cut the lead to 19-13 with 9:30 left.
[6:17 first half] Skara is doing it on offense and Fernandez is doing it on defense. A big layup by Skara and a block on the other end by Fernandez keeps Green Bay's lead to 6, 21-15. Of note, Darien Walker for Valpo busted his nose on a loose ball play and went back to the locker room for treatment. No word on his status.
[4:21] Both teams have hit a bit of cold spot towards the latter part of the half. Guessing it has a lot to do with just how hard both teams are playing. Defense from both teams has been incredible, whoever goes to the NCAA Tournament will be a tough out.
[2:15] Crowd comes to their feet to try and energize this Valpo team, who is shooting just 26% from the floor right now. They're tough shots, though. Hats off to Green Bay for the physicality they brought to the table tonight. 25-15 Green Bay.
[HALF] The crowd gets on their feet towards the end of the half and Vashil Fernandez delivers with a slam to end the half, but still trail Green Bay 25-19.
[17:16] Both teams have kicked it into high gear on offense to start the second half. What's interesting is that Green Bay is starting to pick up fouls early. Three already in the first three minutes. Valpo is capitalizing and cuts the lead to 31-26.
[15:48] Alec Peters is starting to establish himself a little after starting the game out 1-6 in the first half. Hits a big three to trim the Green Bay lead to four, 33-29.
[11:43] A Skara layup lowers the lead to two but Green Bay's Sykes answers back with a two of his own to start a 5-0 run for Wisconsin. Sykes is showing why he's the Horizon League POY. 38-31 Green Bay Phoenix.
[7:19] Valpo storms back to take their first lead at 40-39. They're feeding off the energy and the shots that weren't falling are starting to hit the bottom of the cylinder.
[3:38] A Skara slam and Nickerson free throw increases Valpo's lead to 44-39. Nickerson hits another layup to increase the lead, but McKinnie for Green Bay answers with a three. Valpo up 46-42.
[57.6] Nickerson hits a huge shot for Valpo to put the Crusaders up 50-44! Green Bay hasn't started the "foul game" yet, but they will soon. They have eight this half.
[FINAL] That's a wrap! Valpo hits enough free throws to keep the lead big enough down the stretch and is going to the 2015 NCAA Tournament with a 54-44 win over Green Bay. Madness has begun in Valparaiso.