GREEN BAY | There have been times throughout the season that Valparaiso men’s basketball coach Bryce Drew has deferred to his freshmen in the late stages of games.
Whether the Crusaders were leading by a considerable amount, facing a large deficit or somewhere in between, Drew made sure to keep his youngsters on the floor as a means to baptize the freshmen by fire.
With every game, and really every possession, providing the difference between advancing in the Horizon League tournament or beginning the long offseason, Drew is hoping those late-game experiences pay off in Green Bay this weekend.
“We’ve certainly talked a lot about how we handle adversity,” Drew said. “I think you saw against UIC that we could’ve lost the lead at several points, but we kept our composure.”
It was in Valparaiso’s last game against Milwaukee that the Crusaders clearly displayed they could handle adversity down the stretch. Big men Vashil Fernandez, Moussa Gueye and Bobby Capobianco had all fouled out with more than nine minutes left in the game and Drew was able to shift his lineup, forcing freshmen Jubril Adekoya and Alec Peters to play out of position. The Crusaders led by seven points at the moment Capobianco fouled out and they extended the lead to as many as 17 in the final minute.
No. 4 Valparaiso (18-14) will face a stiff test from the No. 5 Panthers (18-13) in the second game of tonight’s Horizon League tournament at the Resch Center in Green Bay. Milwaukee was without leading scorer Jordan Aaron the last time the two teams met and despite a pair of double-digit wins this season, Drew isn’t taking anything for granted in the third meeting. One of the keys for the Crusaders starts with making sure Adekoya isn’t stuck playing out of position for the final 10 minutes of the game.
“Milwaukee is a team that can really hurt us on the inside,” Drew said. “We need to stop with the careless fouls. We really need to stay away from those in order to keep our bigs in the game.”
Peters and Adekoya combined for 16 points against the Panthers in 77-62 win on Feb. 15 after combining for just four points in the first meeting at the Athletics-Recreation Center on Jan. 18. Adekoya has played through a knee injury in recent weeks and Peters has seemingly broken through his early-conference slump the second time through the Horizon League.
“I don’t know if it was a wall, but I credit other teammates stepping up,” Peters said of his struggles. “Teams key on you a little more the second time, but credit to Lavonte (Dority), Lexus (Williams), all those other guys. I do feel a little more (comfortable) the second time around.”