VALPARAISO | In the wake of a close loss to Oakland earlier this season, Valparaiso men’s basketball coach Bryce Drew stressed the Crusaders needed to learn how to close out games.
The game was tied with less than a minute remaining with Travis Bader, the all-time NCAA 3-point leader, drilled a long distance shot and added two free throws to ice a 75-70 victory.
The Crusaders struggled on both sides of the ball in the final moments of the game.
“We’re a young team and a lot of our guys are in their first situation closing out games,” Drew said after the loss on Jan. 4. “This is a great starting point for us.
"If we’re making these same mistakes two weeks from now, then we didn’t learn anything.”
Fast forward more than a month and the Crusaders had another last-second loss Friday night to Detroit, the latest in a line of disappointing losses that includes Ohio, St. Louis, Mercer and Oakland.
It’s hard to pinpoint a singular reason for the Detroit loss. The Crusaders shot poorly from every part of the floor. Juwan Howard Jr. hit a difficult shot with the game on the line and Valparaiso couldn’t get the offense established on the final play of the game.
As Valparaiso sits with a pedestrian 14-11 overall record and 6-4 in the Horizon League, you wonder how different this season would be if late game execution was a bit better.
“(Several games) went down to one possession,” Drew said. “If we could’ve gotten one more stop, maybe we’re looking at (a few more) wins.
"We didn’t shoot well (against Detroit), but I thought we played a good last 15 minutes of the game. Unfortunately we were just one stop away from winning.”
With Oakland arriving at the Athletics-Recreation Center for the first time as a Horizon League member this afternoon, the Crusaders are faced with a must-win situation if they are going to keep pace with the top of the conference.
Green Bay lost a rare home game to Milwaukee on Saturday afternoon while Cleveland State beat Wright State on the road. The two teams are ahead of Valparaiso in the standings and another conference loss would drop the Crusaders into a muddled group with five games remaining.
The Crusaders appear to have history on their side going into today’s game.
Drew is 8-1 following a Horizon League loss in his three years as head coach and Valparaiso hasn’t dropped two conference home games in three days since 1992.
“This will be a good character check for our guys to see how we respond,” Drew said. “Hopefully we come focused, determined and upset from the (Detroit) game.”