It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t easy, but it was a huge win for the Valparaiso men’s basketball team.
The Crusaders led wire-to-wire for the second straight game and held off a strong rally from second-place Wright State to pullout a 68-61 victory Tuesday night and take one step closer to a conference title.
Kevin Van Wijk played his best game since the last time Valparaiso met Wright State, finishing with 20 points and nine rebounds.
“It was a very physical game and we were able to get the ball in to Kevin,” Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew said. “Kevin made some great heads fakes, got his defenders in the air and was able to finish. His nine rebounds led us and he was very aggressive tonight.”
Matt Kenney scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half with none being bigger than a shot-clock beating jumper with 44 seconds left that pushed Valparaiso’s lead to three possessions. Kenney iced the game with two free throws and grabbed the final rebound.
“Matt played excellent for us,” Drew said. “He had great vision and made some big shots.”
Valparaiso jumped out to a 32-19 lead, but the Raiders scored the final six points of the first half and then stayed within one to three possessions for most of the second half. Ryan Broekhoff had 10 points for his 22nd straight game in double figures, but his biggest contributions came by the way of three blocked shots.
“I talked to Ryan after the game and told him what makes him so great is everything else that he does,” Drew said. “Just being in the right place, that’s what Ryan does.”
Reserve forward A.J. Pacher led the Raiders (17-9, 8-5) with a career-high 23 points. Bench players scored 45 of Wright State's 61 points.
The Crusaders (20-6, 10-2) will now look toward Saturday’s nationally-televised contest against Detroit. A win would give Valparaiso a share of the Horizon League title and give the Crusaders a magic number of one to clinch first place outright and host the conference tournament.
“We’re going to enjoy this one,” Drew said. “This was a physical game. Everyone in the locker room is exhausted. We’ll have a day off tomorrow and start preparing for Detroit on Thursday.”