Valparaiso 58, Rhode Island 55
The Crusaders went into the halftime break playing excellent defense and horrendous offense in an early-morning game at Rhode Island. By the time they got back on the court they shook off the offensive doldrums as three players scored in double figures in the second half alone.
Alec Peters scored 10 of his 14 points after the break, including a key 3-pointer and two crucial free throws in the final 70 seconds. Vashil Fernandez equaled a career-high with six field goals and Keith Carter scored all 12 of his points in the second half.
As good as Valparaiso's offense was in the second half, it still took until the final shot rimmed out -- the second of two late game-typing looks from Four McGlynn -- before the Crusaders could exhale and secure the victory.
What it means: The Crusaders made another positive statement and this time it was on the national stage. There aren't any numbers that are going to jump out of this one. Casual observers may not be quick to heap praise on Valparaiso, but make no mistake about it, this was a good, and important, win for the Crusaders. The only minimization could come in the fact that Rhode Island star E.C. Matthews is out for the year. The entire dynamic of the game would've shifted with Matthews on the court, not to say the outcome would've changed, just the dynamic.
Much like Iona, the Crusaders will now cheer for Rhode Island the rest of the way. The Gaels and the Rams should represent a positive RPI impact throughout the season.
One reason to be excited: Valparaiso had another opportunity against a highly-regarded opponent and the Crusaders not only looked like they belonged, they looked like the better team. The team played about as bad as a first half as was possible and was still only down by two points. More importantly, the team never panicked. Not when they shot 26.7 percent in the first half. Not when the Crusaders had two easy looks at the basket rim out only for Rhode Island to immediately hit 3-pointers on the other end. Not when the Rams scored five quick points in the final minute to cut the lead down to a single point.
One reason to panic: Did you watch that first half? A scoring drought of nearly eight minutes. Multiple misses at the basket. It was almost as if the Crusaders were transposed back to the first half of the Maryland game from last season. For as good as this team is, they're still not immune to playing poorly on the offensive side of the ball for long stretches. The defense bailed them out this time, not to mention horrendous free throw shooting from Rhode Island.
Ouch: The first few replays of Darien Walker's ankle injury looked horrific. Walker drove to the basket and planted his left foot when his ankle bent with a good deal of force coming down. Walker fell to the ground and was writing in pain before walking to the locker room under his own power. The Chicago native returned to the floor later in the game and led the Crusaders with nine rebounds.
David Skara (ankle) stayed back in Valparaiso and Bryce Drew said after the game that the sophomore underwent a MRI this morning. Drew also said they were waiting for one more evaluation on Derrik Smits (ankle) before making a determination.
Revenge Game?: ESPN was quick to point out (albeit incorrectly) that the last time Valparaiso and Rhode Island played each other was in the 1998 NCAA regional semifinal. The two teams actually played a home-and-home series with games in 2000 and 2001. That didn't stop ESPN from referencing Bryce Drew and The Shot which led Valparaiso to the second round and ultimately a date with the Rams in St. Louis. Rhode Island won 74-68 and that game represented the end of Drew's collegiate career.
Quotable: "I didn't even see the (1998 NCAA Regional Final) banner. I wasn't even looking for it. That was a long time ago. That was a great game, but I'm just focused on these guys and trying to get better right now." -- Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew on playing Rhode Island
What's Next: I can't imagine there are many teams in the country that have a shorter turnaround than what the Crusaders are going through. Valparaiso will play two games 34 hours and 911 miles apart from one another. The team is set to fly out of Rhode Island Tuesday afternoon and land in Chicago around 8 p.m. Valparaiso will be back on the court Wednesday night to host IU-Kokomo in the first of two consecutive non-Division I games at the Athletics-Recreation Center.