AUBURN HILLS, Mich. | Tears ran down Ryan Broekhoff’s cheeks while blood poured from Kevin Van Wijk’s elbow.
Valparaiso’s six seniors played with everything they had in their final collegiate game Thursday afternoon, but it was ultimately not enough as the No. 14 Crusaders fell 65-54 to No. 3 Michigan State in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Now the transition process begins for both Valparaiso seniors as well as the basketball program.
“This has been a heck of a journey,” Broekhoff said. “The basketball is one thing, but the bonds and friendships that I’ve made here will last a lifetime.”
The Crusaders started five seniors Thursday while a sixth senior led the team in scoring off the bench. Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew couldn’t bring himself to take players such as Broekhoff and Erik Buggs off the floor in the closing moments.
“That was probably more for me than it was for them,” Drew said. “I’ve loved watching them play in a Valparaiso uniform. There wasn’t any way I was going to end that earlier than I had to.”
Buggs leaves Valparaiso as the all-time leader in games played (138), while Broekhoff and Matt Kenney are also in the top four. The senior class won 86 games and led the Crusaders to the postseason for the past three years.
“I personally wouldn’t want to trade this team for anyone in the country,” Drew said. “They’re such a joy to be around, not only on the floor, but every day in practice. They have a lot to be proud of, a school-record 26 wins, two straight conference championships and then their character.”
Broekhoff and Van Wijk will play professional basketball next season while the Crusaders will go from being one of the oldest teams in the country to one of the youngest. A much-anticipated five-member freshman class will arrive in the summer, eager to be the next group to lead Valparaiso to the NCAA tournament.
“It hurts right now, but I’m proud of each and every one,” Van Wijk said. “Maybe a few weeks from now we’ll be able to look back at what we’ve done, but this is still painful.”