VALPARAISO | Searching for answers, Valparaiso coach Homer Drew called timeout on back-to-back possessions just past the midway point in the second half of Thursday's Horizon League game against Loyola.
Offensively, there were just too many questions for the Crusaders. Chief among them, who would step up and make a shot?
The answer? No one.
The Crusaders made 35.2 percent of their shots, a season-low at the Athletics-Recreation Center, in a 68-48 loss to the Ramblers that destroyed any chance of winning the men's basketball conference title.
Valpo (20-10, 11-6) did not look like the same team that blasted Missouri State five days ago with Dick Vitale in the house. It was so bad Cory Johnson missed a fairly open dunk attempt with 2:56 remaining at the end of another bad possession. It was so bad Brandon Wood finished 1-for-8 overall and 0-for-4 from the arc for a season-low two points, and Ryan Broekhoff scored four points on 1-for-5 shooting.
"We didn't have any gas in the tank," Valpo coach Homer Drew said. "We were exhausted. We just couldn't get up and down the floor as much as we've been able to do."
The Crusaders made 2-of-23 3-pointers, a season-worst 8.7 percent. Johnson led the way with 15 points, and Matt Kenney was next on the team with just six.
Drew said fatigue was a factor, pointing out the team didn't return to Valpo until 4 a.m. Tuesday after Monday night's 81-80 overtime loss at Green Bay.
"It stinks. It hurts a lot," Johnson said. "We've got a big game on Saturday (against UIC), and we just have to turn it around and put all of our effort into that."
The Ramblers (16-13, 7-10) looked more like the team fighting for a top seed. Four players scored in double figures, led by Terrance Hill with 20, and the Ramblers responded every time the Crusaders made a mini run.
"We needed them to not shoot the ball well," said Loyola coach Jim Whitesell, whose team lost to Valpo 66-56 in Chicago on Dec. 4. "They're an excellent shooting team, and sometimes the ball doesn't bounce your way."
Hill also did an excellent defensive job on Wood.
"Wood is so good, I was watching his second half against Green Bay and we knew he had to be off a little bit for us to have a chance," Whitesell said. "You have to fight him as much as possible, and Terrance did a good job but Brandon didn't have his 'A' game either."
Valpo's only lead was 2-0. From there, Loyola went on a 12-0 run and increased its advantage to 29-15 with 4:06 remaining on back-to-back 3-pointers by Geoff McCammon. Valpo trailed 34-26 at the half after scoring on five consecutive possessions. The Crusaders missed all six of their 3-pointers before the break.
Valpo freshman Jay Harris hit the first 3-pointer of the game with 10:47 remaining to get the Crusaders within 40-37.
"You can't look back on these things," Drew said. "What lies ahead is what's most important ot us. We have to get a confidence to us and help prepare for the conference tournament."