Ryan Broekhoff’s shot was literally heard around the world on Saturday night.
The national media (and this hack as well) had a field day comparing Broekhoff’s buzzer-beating miracle with “The Shot,” especially given that Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew ended up in the same position on the floor that he was in 15 years ago.
Drew’s shot is undoubtedly the biggest in school history and Broekhoff’s is arguably No. 2, especially if the Crusaders can make it back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in nine years on Tuesday night. Still, there have been other buzzer-beaters that have stood out over the years.
Kevin Van Wijk beat the clock to force overtime against Kent State this season and Erik Buggs went coast-to-coast to beat Detroit last year. Howard Little beat the shot clock two years ago late in overtime against Butler and Brandon McPherson had the New Year’s Eve Miracle against Milwaukee in 2009.
The Mid-Con Era also saw some key buzzer-beating moments, including Greg Tonagel hitting a 77-foot 3-pointer to beat Belmont in 1999 and Ivan Vujic hitting a layup to beat Oral Roberts in 2000. Shawn Huff hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the final 18 seconds to force overtime against Oral Roberts in 2007 and then hit the game-winning 3-pointer with just over two minutes remaining.
While all of those shots were crucial to the Crusaders and all have stories that will go down in Valparaiso lore, there is something different about a game-winning shot when it leaves the hands of the star.
The 2013 Horizon League tournament has been defined by late game heroics, but it wasn’t until Broekhoff’s miracle shot fell through the rim that any of the four buzzer-beaters were hit by an All-League performer. D.J. Cole, Sultan Muhammad and Miles Dixon likely lived their one shining moment this week, whereas Broekhoff’s legacy was cemented long before Saturday night.
“The Shot” might not earn capital letters if Jared Nuness is the one pulling the trigger. Matt Kenney hit a huge 3-pointer six seconds before Broekhoff’s game-winner, but if the roles were reversed would it have felt the same?
Big players make their biggest plays in the biggest games. It’s ironic that on a night when the snubbed-Broekhoff hit the biggest shot of his career, Detroit’s Ray McCallum, the recently-appointed Horizon League Player of the Year, chose to pass up a chance to win the game for his team in the first semifinal, instead passing the ball to a dunking-machine 20 feet from the basket and immediately yelling “shoot it.”
There were five buzzer-beaters hit on Saturday night in NCAA Division I that were looped on SportsCenter and unless Wright State wins on Tuesday night, the shot that will carry the most weight for the longest period of time will be Broekhoff’s. That's what happens when the star hits the shot and that brings the story back to Broekhoff’s shot literally being heard around the world.
Five Crusaders have been named Player of the Year in their respective conferences, all in the last 19 years. Out of the five, the last three now have hit memorable buzzer-beaters. Bryce Drew hit his in the first round of the 1998 NCAA tournament. Ryan Broekhoff hit his in the semifinals of the 2013 Horizon League tournament. Lubos Barton hit his in a relatively nondescript January conference game at IUPUI in 2002.
Valparaiso trailed the Jaguars 73-72 in the closing seconds when Barton took an inbounds pass from Ali Berdiel, decided against passing the ball inside to Raitis Grafs and took the shot himself.
Barton, who is currently playing for the New Yorker Phantoms Braunschweig in the top professional league in Germany, referred to Broekhoff’s shot as “epic” while fondly remembering his own pressure-filled moment.
“I remember that it wasn’t really a buzzer-beater,” Barton said on early Monday morning. “I left a split second on the clock in case I missed. I wanted us to have a chance for the rebound and a putback.”
Barton got the ball from Berdiel with just over seven seconds remaining in overtime and was matched against an IUPUI post player at the top of the key. Valparaiso coach Homer Drew called a play in the huddle that was intended to get the ball to Grafs, Valparaiso’s star big man.
Broekhoff is to Barton as Kevin Van Wijk is to Grafs. All four are/were dominant players, any of them capable of hitting a huge shot, but when the Crusaders needed one to win Barton took it, much like Broekhoff did on Saturday night.
“Homer’s plan to get the ball close to the basket for Raitis failed and I got my shot at it,” Barton said. “I took my chance on a jumpshot and after a good pump fake, (the defender) jumped on it and I had a clear look. It felt great as I released it, but then the shot fell short.”
Drew and Broekhoff hit buzzer-beaters that swished straight through the net. Barton’s shot had a little more intrigue. The ball hit the front part of the rim and then bounced up off the glass before falling back to the rim for a few more bounces before falling through the cylinder.
“It was the longest two seconds of my career,” Barton said.
The win was Valparaiso’s fourth straight in a winning streak that eventually grew to nine games. The Crusaders beat IUPUI twice more that season, including an 88-55 win in the Mid-Con title game that sent Barton and his senior teammates to their third NCAA tournament.
Drew and Barton stand out as the leaders of teams that have made multiple NCAA tournament appearances. Plenty of solid players have passed through Northwest Indiana since the Crusaders set the program-record for wins with 25 in Barton’s senior year. Names like Huff, Loyd, McPherson, Igbavboa, Diebler, Haanpaa, Little, Johnson and Wood. None of them heard their name called on Selection Sunday.
Broekhoff was going to leave a legacy at Valparaiso even before Saturday’s shot, but now there is a question of which legacy he will ultimately leave. Does he join Drew and Barton as stars that led their respective teams to the Big Dance, or does he join the long list of players who came up a step short?
Barton has some advice for the current crop of Crusaders as they prepare for the biggest game of their careers for the second time. Valparaiso has had 12 long months to think about last season’s championship game loss to Detroit and the 2002 graduate thinks that experience could help.
“There is a saying which is so true in sports especially,” Barton said. “You learn from winning, but you learn even more from losing. If you don’t make shots and plays, and the other team does, that’s fine; that’s basketball. But if the other team out hustles you, out rebounds you, etc….then you know where you failed.”
Barton played in four Mid-Con title games and went to the NCAA tournament three times. Losing the 2001 championship game against Southern Utah is one of Barton’s most vivid memories of his four years at Valparaiso.
“We played terribly, always a step behind everywhere,” Barton said. “We were getting embarrassed out there…it wasn’t meant to be. We didn’t deserve it”
Much like the Crusaders last year, the 2001 team was led mainly with juniors, but there was still a trio of seniors who ended their careers with a loss to the Thunderbirds. It was those players who Barton thought of as he prepared for his senior season.
“I remember the feeling after the game,” Barton said. “I felt so bad for our seniors Marko Punda, Jason Jenkins and Dwayne Toatley. It was over for them! No trip to the NCAAs. Over. I felt bad and happy that I still had one more shot.”
Barton and his senior teammates made the most of their last chance and throughout the season they displayed resiliency when their backs were against the wall.
That same kind of resiliency has been on display for Valparaiso this season. It was with the Crusaders against Kent State and Murray State. It was there at Detroit and in the conference-title clinching win over Youngstown State when Valparaiso trailed by 13 points. It was evident in both wins over Wright State, including what looked to be Broekhoff’s career-defining performance when he single-handedly took over the game against the Raiders in a 69-63 win at the ARC.
Broekhoff had a shining moment on Saturday night. Will he add another on Tuesday?