VALPARAISO | The last time Detroit was in the Athletics-Recreation Center, the Valparaiso men’s basketball team failed in its bid to win a championship.
The Crusaders have another title on the line Saturday afternoon as Valparaiso can lock up at least a share of the Horizon League regular season championship and get one step closer to securing the right to host the conference tournament.
Standing in their way will be the Titans, Valparaiso’s newest rival and perhaps toughest hurdle between the Crusaders and an NCAA tournament berth.
“We’re looking up at Valpo right now and we understand that this is a great opportunity for us,” Detroit coach Ray McCallum Sr. said. “This will be one of the best environments in college basketball for this game.”
The Crusaders have a 10-4 record against Detroit since joining the Horizon League six years ago and have won six of the last seven games between the two squads. The one loss came when it hurt the most, a 70-50 defeat in last season’s Horizon League title game, sending the Titans to the NCAA tournament.
“We had two championship teams battling each other on the floor that night,” McCallum said. “Fortunately we played our best game of the season when it counted and we came out ahead.”
Valparaiso’s rivalry with Detroit stems just as much from conference tournament losses (The Crusaders were upset by the Titans in 2010) as it does from regular season wins. It’s been more than three years since Valparaiso has lost to Detroit in the regular season and two of the wins at Calihan Hall have featured unbelievable heroics. Will Bogan connected on seven 3-pointers last season and Erik Buggs went coast-to-coast for a game-winning layup at the buzzer to win 73-71 last season.
The Crusaders trailed by 22 points in the second half at Detroit this season before rallying to score the final 12 points of the game and win 89-88.
“We had a great first half and then Valpo had a great second half,” McCallum said. “It was a game that came down to the last possession. We had the ball and a chance to win.”
Saturday’s contest will feature a rematch of two of the best individual performances in the Horizon League this season. Detroit’s Nick Minnerath had a career-high 36 points in the Jan. 17 loss to the Crusaders while Kevin Van Wijk added a career-high 31 points for Valparaiso.
The contest will also feature the two best players in the Horizon League. Reigning conference Player of the Year Ryan Broekhoff scored 18 points on just 10 shots against the Titans while Preseason Player of the Year Ray McCallum Jr. had just six points on 11 shots. McCallum led Detroit with 21 points in last season’s Horizon League title game.
“All of the accolades that Broekhoff has received are ones that he’s earned,” McCallum Sr. said. “He makes the team better. If he needs to get 17 rebounds, he’ll do that. If he needs to score 30, he can do that. He’s important for us.”