The path back to the NCAA tournament just got significantly harder for the Valparaiso men’s basketball team.
The Crusaders trailed wire-to-wire in a 67-58 loss at Wright State on Tuesday night and as a result, no longer control their own destiny in their quest for a bye in the Horizon League tournament.
Valparaiso needs to beat Cleveland State on Saturday afternoon and also needs last-place Illinois-Chicago to knock off Wright State in order for the Crusaders to claim the No. 3 seed and a first-round bye. If not, Valparaiso will host the No. 9 Flames next Tuesday and will then need to battle through regular-season champion Green Bay’s side of the bracket in order to earn its second straight trip to the NCAA tournament.
“We knew this was a very challenging stretch for us,” Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew said. “Our goal is to be playing our best basketball toward the end of the season. We’ll get back in the gym over the next few days and get ready for Cleveland State. We need to be playing our best as we enter the conference tournament.”
The Crusaders came into the night controlling their own destiny, needing wins over the Raiders and Cleveland State in order to lock up the No. 2 seed and the double bye to the conference semifinals. Facing a suffocating Wright State defense, the Crusaders were unable to generate any offense and trailed 32-23 at halftime. Valparaiso scored just 45 first-half points against the Raiders in two meetings this season.
“Their defense hurt us throughout the first half,” Drew said. “In the second half we started to get the ball to the right spots, but then defensively we didn’t do as well. They did a really good job when they needed to. They have a lot of experience; a team that went to the championship game last year and has a player that’s been in two Final Fours. They have a lot of meaningful game experience.”
Wright State’s lead bounced between seven and 11 points for much of the second half, as the Crusaders continued to struggle against Wright State’s defense. Valparaiso shot 46.8 percent from the floor (22-of-47), but took six less shots than the Raiders and attempted six less free throws. Alec Peters led the Crusaders (17-13, 9-6) with 11 points while Vashil Fernandez added 10 points and five rebounds.
The Crusaders cut the deficit to 55-51 with just under four minutes remaining, but A.J. Pacher scored the next seven points for the Raiders (17-13, 9-6) as they extended the lead back to 62-53 with 2:27 remaining. The Crusaders never got closer than five the rest of the game.
Pacher finished with 20 points and six rebounds while Cole Darling chipped in 12 points.
Lavonte Dority was limited to just six points for the second time against Wright State this season. The senior scored two field goals and was held without an assist in 31 minutes.
“They were keying on him,” Drew said. “When (Oakland’s Travis) Bader plays against them, he didn’t make a three. This will be good for us to work on as we prepare for Cleveland State.”
The Crusaders wrap up their regular season at the Athletics-Recreation Center with senior day against the Vikings on Saturday afternoon. Cleveland State clinched the No. 2 seed with an overtime win over Youngstown State on Tuesday night.