AUBURN HILLS, Mich. | Valparaiso couldn’t hit open shots and couldn’t stop Derrick Nix.
Had one of the two gone their way, the No. 14 Crusaders may have been able to pull the upset against No. 3 Michigan State, but instead fell 65-54 in the second round of the NCAA tournament Midwest regional.
The loss ends Valparaiso’s record-setting season and the careers of six seniors.
“I was very pleased as a coach with the looks that we got,” Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew said. “I thought we got quality looks. We told our guys that sometimes we can’t control shots going in.”
Ryan Broekhoff (eight points) didn’t hit his first field goal until there were less than 90 seconds remaining in the first half, and Kevin Van Wijk (two points) missed all six of his shots.
“I had some shots that bounced off the rim, shots that I thought would go in,” Van Wijk said. “When that keeps happening it’s hard to stay motivated. It’s disappointing that in probably the biggest game of my career I wasn’t able to hit shots for my team.”
While Valparaiso’s stars struggled to generate offense, Nix couldn’t be contained on either end of the floor. The Michigan State senior had 23 points and 15 rebounds, including nine offensive boards that led to 14 second-chance points. The Spartans dominated the interior, scoring 36 points in the paint and outrebounding Valparaiso 49-23.
“Nix was definitely a load,” Broekhoff said. “He just sealed us a little bit too low and too close to the rim. With his size and his skill level around the hoop, it’s almost impossible to guard him. I thought we did a good job at times, but over the course of 40 minutes he found his spots and was able to convert.”
Michigan State took control of the game with a 26-5 run midway through the first half and then held the Crusaders off despite several second half rallies. Keith Appling answered a 9-0 Valparaiso run with five points. The Crusaders missed a golden opportunity when Adreian Payne was called for an intentional foul with 6:51 remaining. Erik Buggs missed both free throws and Van Wijk missed another open layup.
Valparaiso trailed by 21 points with just over two minutes remaining, but senior Ben Boggs helped the score look respectable with 10 consecutive points in the final 1:54. Boggs led the Crusaders (26-8) with a season-high 15 points.
“That’s been our team. We play with a never-quit attitude,” Boggs said. “We weren’t going to stop playing until the final whistle.”
Appling had 15 points and six rebounds for the Spartans (26-8) while Gary Harris had 10 points and four assists. Michigan State will play No. 6 Memphis with a trip to the Sweet Sixteen on the line on Saturday.
Buggs had 14 points and five steals in his final collegiate game while Matt Kenney added 10 points. The Crusaders end their season with a program-record 26 wins and back-to-back conference championships.