What if Jarryd Loyd never airballed the Butler free throw?
The 2007-08 season was a special year for the Valparaiso men's basketball team. The Crusaders were coming off four "down" years for the program ever since Homer Drew returned to the bench following the 2002-03 season. Drew had a senior-led team taking the floor in the fall of 2007 featuring Jarryd Loyd and Shawn Huff, as well as some solid freshmen in Bryan Bouchie, Howard Little and Mike Rogers.
On top of the talent on the floor, the Crusaders were finally official members of the Horizon League and they made a great first impression. Picked to finish sixth in the conference, Valparaiso won its first two games, including a 71-66 upset on the road against Wright State.
The Athletics-Recreation Center started to have life again after being relatively silent for the past several years and a lot had to do with fan favorites Huff and Loyd.
One of the biggest draws of joining the Horizon League for Valparaiso was a chance to renew an in-state rivalry with Butler. The Bulldogs had long turned their noses up at playing Valparaiso out-of-conference, going so far as to demand a two-for-one trip to Hinkle Fieldhouse if Butler was to play at the ARC.
The teams were brought together through the ESPN BracketBuster in 2005 with the Crusaders falling 72-69 in Indianapolis. Two years later the pair met for the final time in non-conference play and No. 19 Butler trounced Valparaiso 60-47 in Northwest Indiana.
The Crusaders didn't have things any easier once they were members of the Horizon League, falling 73-65 in their first conference game at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Jan. 5, 2008. Valparaiso won three of its next six Horizon League games, finishing the first run through the conference at 5-4 and setting the stage for a nationally televised home game against the Bulldogs on Feb. 5.
It was a huge week for Valparaiso University. ESPN was coming to the campus for the first time in more than 10 years and the day before the game it was announced that ESPN would also be at the ARC for a BracketBuster game against Miami (Ohio).
The Bulldogs were ranked just outside the Top 10 in both polls and entered the game with a 19-2 record. Doug Gottlieb was in the building for ESPN2 and the atmosphere was electric. Much like they had done as underdogs in many big games in the early 2000's, the Crusaders jumped out to a huge lead, scoring the first 12 points and forcing four Butler turnovers.
Four straight Butler 3-pointers eventually tied the game at 19-19, but the Crusaders never backed down and took a 43-35 lead into the locker room.
The Crusaders, playing in front of a record crowd of 5,342, never trailed in the game despite never being able to put away the Bulldogs. Mike Green scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half and had Butler within one point when Loyd was fouled with 24 seconds remaining.
Just before Green's basket, Loyd knocked down a huge 3-pointer that gave Valparaiso a 68-65 lead with 37 seconds left. Green's basket cut the lead to 68-67 and then the Butler senior fouled Loyd immediately.
Loyd began his career as an 80 percent free throw shooter, but had steadily dipped in his next two years. The senior finished his career at 68.1 percent, but outside of Huff, he was the player that Drew wanted on the line in that moment.
If you must, the highlight is at 1:27 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3lj8E6P5gjI
Loyd stepped to the line for the front end of a one-and-one and hitting both free throws would put the Crusaders back up by three points with under 25 seconds to go. Splitting the pair would at least give Valparaiso a shot at overtime if Butler scored.
Loyd's free throw fell just short of the front part of the rim, giving Butler a dead ball rebound and wiping out the second attempt. The Bulldogs were able to make a substitution and looked destined to take a one-point lead when A.J. Graves drove to the basket. With Graves about to score, the senior kicked the ball out to Pete Campbell in the corner who knocked down a wide open 3-pointer, giving the Bulldogs a 70-68 lead, their first of the game.
Shellshocked by the events, Loyd promptly turned the ball over and Brandon McPherson missed a 3-point attempt at the buzzer that could've forced overtime. The Crusaders had one of the top teams in college basketball on the ropes at home and couldn't slam the door.
"I went to the line and I missed," Loyd said after the game. "It's the game of basketball. I feel like I've let my team down."
But what if Loyd hadn't airballed the free throw? What if he not only hit the first shot, but then the second as well. In a vacuum it wouldn't appear to matter because the Bulldogs hit a 3-pointer on their next possession which would've tied the game instead of giving Butler a two-point lead.
Let's throw out the idea of the free throw and just ask what would've happened if Valparaiso would've won? It would've marked Valparaiso's first win over a ranked team since the 1998 NCAA tournament and it would've been one of the largest home wins in school history. The crowd would've stormed the court and Valparaiso would've been all over SportsCenter that night.
There is one other scenario that has become almost urban legend around the Valparaiso basketball program. Bryce Drew had been an assistant for several years by the 2007-08 season and it was beginning to become apparent that he would be the next head coach once Homer Drew retired. The general thought around town was that Homer Drew would guide the Crusaders into the Horizon League and then step down following the season.
As the season progressed and the Crusaders were having success, the rumors started to reach a heightened state and it was hard to go anywhere without hearing someone proclaim that Homer was on his way out after the season. From these rumors came another idea that if the Crusaders were somehow able to beat Butler on national television, Homer Drew would grab the microphone after the students stormed the floor and announce his retirement effective at the end of the season.
(I never understood where this rumor came from, but I heard it from multiple sources at the time; sources that have proven to be correct on many other topics. No one ever attached their name and this was before Twitter where these sort of things end up landing)
Earlier this summer I sat down with Homer Drew to talk about many of the moments that have been chronicled in the "Valparaiso Basketball What If" series and he could only laugh when I posed the question about retiring midcourt.
"I don't ever remember having that thought," Drew said. "I'm getting up there and I don't remember everything anymore, but that never entered my mind. That would not have been my style."
I asked Drew if he thinks about the Butler loss still or if that comes up when he thinks about Loyd.
"That never resonates in my mind," Drew said. "The one play that did was the Miami (Ohio) win when Jarryd made the pass to Shawn for the game-winning dunk. I remember that moment when I think of Jarryd and I remember the class in which he handled everything."
If Drew was planning to retire following the 2007-08 season, I don't think he would've let a missed free throw stop him. If retirement thoughts were ever in his mind, you'd have to think the 9-22 season of 2008-09 would've sealed the deal.