VALPARAISO | Get out your ink pen and place Valparaiso in your NCAA tournament bracket. The Crusaders will be dancing for the first time since 2004.
No. 1 seed Valparaiso got off to a quick start in Tuesday night's Horizon League championship against Wright State, led by 11 at halftime and played awful in the second half but held off the Raiders 62-54 in a game televised nationally on ESPN from the Athletics-Recreation Center.
Valpo will be one of 68 teams in the Big Dance when CBS announces the pairings late Sunday afternoon. It will be the Crusaders' eighth NCAA appearance, and this was the first time they clinched on their home court.
"It's a huge monkey off our back," said Valpo senior Erik Buggs, the tournament MVP who scored a career-high 22 points and had four steals. "This is important for our community, for our university and especially for our seniors."
The Crusaders (26-7) survived despite committing a season-high 25 turnovers, including a disastrous 15 in the second half.
Valpo put together a game-clinching 16-0 run over the final 5 1/2 minutes after Wright State's Matt Vest hit a 3-pointer with 5:36 remaining to give his team a 50-44 lead.
Things looked bleak at that point for Valpo, but a Kevin Van Wijk inside basket started the rally. Valpo played lock-down defense over the final five minutes, not allowing another field goal until a meaningless putback with 8.3 seconds remaining.
"That was the best defense we played all year for that five minutes," Valpo coach Bryce Drew said.
Will Bogan added 14 points for Valpo, including a pair of 3-pointers and 4-of-4 free throws down the stretch. Van Wijk added 10 points and 10 rebounds, while Ryan Broekhoff -- also named to the all-tournament team -- scored just seven while being the focal point of the Raiders' defense.
Broekhoff did get free for a 3-pointer off a Buggs assist with 1:47 remaining that ultimately proved to be a dagger for the Raiders (21-12).
The victory symbolized redemption for the senior-laden Crusaders, who were embarrassed by Detroit 70-50 in last year's title game and had to settle for a disappointing NIT bid.
"There was a stretch of the game where we played tight, because we were scared it was going to end," Drew said.
For Wright State, Reggie Arceneaux scored 14 points and was named to the all-tournament team.
Valpo got off to a hot start, doubling up the Raiders at 28-14. The Crusaders hit seven of their first eight shots, and, after a cold spell, finished the half strong and led 36-25 at the break.
The game was played at a pace favorable for the Raiders and coach Billy Donlon. But the Raiders shot just 38.9 percent (21 of 54) overall.
"We were just a little spastic the first five minutes and the last three minutes of the game, and I take full responsibility for that," Donlon said. "At halftime I told them we were playing like we were too worried about what was at stake. We played the worst defensive half of our season, now go out and play the best defensive half. We did just that until the three-minute mark."