VALPARAISO | Stopping Ryan Broekhoff has proved difficult for all Horizon League teams this season.
Butler came as close as any team on Feb. 24, limiting Broekhoff to six points.
But the junior from Australia came back with a vengeance Saturday night, scoring 19 points and pulling down 16 rebounds to lead No. 1 seed Valparaiso to a dominating 65-46 victory over No. 5 Butler in the semifinals of the Horizon League tournament in a jam-packed Athletics-Recreation Center.
"Just an extraordinary performance," Valpo coach Bryce Drew said of Broekhoff, who left little doubt he deserved the Horizon League Player of the Year award that he received on Monday.
Valpo (22-10) beat Butler (20-14) for the third time this season, the first time a conference team beat the Bulldogs three times in the same year since Wright State in 2004-05. The Crusaders won 71-59 just eight days earlier, and now advance to face Detroit in Tuesday's championship.
"We were confident but the Horizon League tournament games are completely different from the regular season," Broekhoff said. "Everything is on the line. We were quietly confident that we could repeat what we did last week. we were focused and ready, and it's a credit to the guys."
Kevin Van Wijk and Erik Buggs each added 11 points for the Crusaders, who led 31-24 at halftime after building a 25-11 lead with 7:45 remaining in the first half.
Buggs provided the biggest and most surprising spark for Valpo, hitting a 3-pointer midway through the first half and another one with 12:56 remaining in the game to give the Crusaders a 44-30 lead.
"I've been working a lot with the coaches and my teammates give me a lot of confidence," said Buggs, who was 2-for-19 from the arc entering the game. "They always tell me to shoot the ball and today the shots were just falling."
The Crusaders fell behind at the start, committing turnovers on their first three possessions. Butler led 7-2 early, but Valpo got on a roll after the first media timeout.
Broekhoff tied it for the first time at 8-8 on a post-up feed from Matt Kenney. From there, the Crusaders went on a 17-3 run to take a 25-11 lead.
In the second half, Jay Harris finished off an 11-0 Valpo run with a deep 3-pointer for a 49-30 lead with 10:19 remaining. Game over.
Valpo did everything that Milwaukee didn't against Butler in the quarterfinals. For the most part, the Crusaders limited the Bulldogs to one shot -- a key statistic during the big run when Butler missed 10 consecutive field-goal attempts.
Butler shot just 17 of 51 overall (33.3 percent) while the Crusaders were 23-of-43 (53.5 percent). The Bulldogs had just nine second-chance points after scoring 21 in Friday's win over Milwaukee.
"It was pretty simple -- they played really well and we didn't," Butler coach Brad Stevens. "Their two frontline guys (Broekhoff and Van Wijk) really killed us again and they made timely shots."
For Butler, Chrishawn Hopkins kept his team in the game early and finished with 18 points. Erik Fromm added 12 off the bench, but no other player scored more than four points. The Bulldogs missed 10 consecutive shots midway through the first half and started the second half 2-for-13.
"I'd like to say it was all our great defense but realistically we were tyring to guard hard and rebound hard," Drew said. "Sometimes Butler was getting some pretty good looks but the ball wasn't going through."