JIM PETERS: Crusaders answer the early wake-up call

2012-11-13T12:00:00Z 2012-11-14T00:11:29Z JIM PETERS: Crusaders answer the early wake-up callJim Peters Times Columnist nwitimes.com
November 13, 2012 12:00 pm  • 

VALPARAISO | I'm not much for mornings.

It's a rare occasion when I willingly roll out of the hay early. Just ask my wife.

Tuesday's 7 a.m. tipoff for the Valparaiso and Northern Illinois men's basketball game at the Athletics-Recreation Center was a nice exception.

A crowd of 2,445, including a caffeinated contingent of VU students, agreed.

"Our student section was awesome," said Crusaders coach Bryce Drew, who treated any ValparaiZone member sporting their neon T-shirt to breakfast at Jimmy's.

"They woke me up, walking in and seeing their bright shirts. The students were excited for the game and I think it woke up our players quicker."

The teams took the bacon-and-eggs start time to be part of ESPN's Tipoff Marathon, the fifth of 11 games over a 24-hour span.

"It was definitely something new not many of us had done," Valpo's Ben Boggs said. "You just had to get to bed early (Monday) night and get up early enough to get some food in your system."

Drew didn't make a bed check or set a curfew Monday night, trusting his players to hit the pillow at a sensible hour.

"We've got a lot of mature, pretty high-character guys who wanted to perform well," Drew said. "We talked all week. They knew they had to get to bed early. I thought they handled it well."

For the better part of a sluggish first half, it appeared no one other than the Crusaders' Ryan Broekhoff heard the alarm go off. There were six points scored between the teams in the first six minutes.

"When Bryce called me about the game, I figured the one time we could beat them was early in the morning," said NIU coach Mark Montgomery, whose team shot a groggy 6 of 32 in the first half.

"They probably woke up the same time we did. Once you're up moving around and start playing, you don't know what time it is."

Maybe the fact that it was evening time back in Broekhoff's native Australia prompted his monster first 20 minutes, which saw him score 16 of Valpo's 23 points. Outside of Broekhoff, VU shot 3 of 13 in that span.

"I'm not the biggest morning person," Broekhoff said. "But any time you get the opportunity to play on ESPN, you always take it."

Broekhoff's mates came out bright-eyed for the second half, during which they shot a sizzling 72.7 percent (8 of 11) from the arc. Matt Kenney caught fire with three 3s after the break, finishing with 16 points.

"I like how we competed the first 20 minutes," Montgomery said. "We've just got to put two halves together. Valpo did."

Kenney had one class canceled, but it was back to an otherwise normal school day on campus.

"They did a study on doing this game and they said there are actually more night classes (here) than morning classes," Drew said. "More people would have missed it if it was at night."

Montgomery, who practiced his team at the crack of dawn over the weekend, said he'd do it again, given the chance.

"No question about it," he said. "It's great for the players, the university. It helps recruiting. I'd like it a little later in the day but 7's fine. I can check 7 a.m. off my bucket list."

The Huskies don't play again until Sunday. The Crusaders aren't so fortunate. They have a short turnaround, playing at Nebraska on Thursday.

"Coach said no more morning practices," Kenney said. "We're going to hold him to that."

Nighty, night. It's time for my nap.

This column represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at jim.peters@nwi.com.

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