VALPARAISO | By the time the team bus pulled into the Athletics-Recreation Center late Friday morning, the celebration was over for the Valparaiso men's basketball team.
Coming off a stunning 22-point comeback over Detroit, the Crusaders had already mentally moved towards a key Horizon League tilt with Wright State tonight at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
If Valparaiso can win, it will assume first place in the conference. A loss would push the Raiders to a 5-0 start and give Wright State a two game advantage on the rest of the conference.
"We've got to move quickly to get ready for Wright State," Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew said. "They are the top team in the conference. They're playing very well right now and we know they are a tough team."
With a 13-4 record and an undefeated mark in conference play, there is no question that Wright State is a tough opponent, but it wasn't supposed to be that way. The Raiders were selected to finish last in the Horizon League this season and that has been fuel for coach Billy Donlon and his players.
"I'll use it as a chip on my shoulder," Wright State guard Reggie Arceneaux said at Horizon League Media Day in October. "I just want to concentrate on things I can control. Championships aren't won on paper."
Arceneaux leads the Raiders with 10.8 points per game while Cole Darling averages 10.7 in 23 minutes. Donlon coaches with a fiery energy and his style has transitioned to the defensive side of the ball where the Raiders surrender a league-best 55.8 points per night. That mark is good for 12th in the country while the Crusaders were in the top 50 with 59.2 points heading into Thursday night's contest against Detroit.
Both teams have won four league games in the last month and they've done it the same way. Two of the wins have been by double figures while two have come in close finishes.
"Our league comes down to the last three minutes of every game," Donlon said. "Every year each team has five or six games that can go one way or the other."
The Crusaders have won three out of the last four against the Raiders, including the last two contests at the Athletics-Recreation Center.