VALPARAISO | Even casual basketball fans see it. Every time Valparaiso guard Erik Buggs has the ball on the perimeter, his defender backs off, daring him to take the shot.
It isn't necessarily a bad strategy. Buggs, a fifth-year senior, is a career 22.9 percent shooter (25 of 109) from 3-point range.
But his value is in playing in-your-face defense and driving the lane for acrobatic layups. Three times in the first half Wednesday against Loyola, Buggs took advantage of the space he was given and drove the lane for an easy bucket.
"We've worked on his situation," Valpo coach Bryce Drew said. "I thought he did a good job of taking advantage of it for a while.
"We're used to it. We're sure other teams will guard us the same way. It doesn't rattle him. He just goes out, leads our team and plays hard."
Buggs made a go-ahead-and-take-it 3-pointer in the second half against Loyola, and had another one just rim out. His nine points were a lone bright spot in Wednesday's disappointing 63-54 loss to open Horizon League play.
Fortunately for Buggs and the Crusaders, they have a quick turnaround as Cleveland State (8-6, 0-0) is in town today for 6 p.m. game to be broadcast nationally on ESPNU.
Valpo (10-5, 0-1) has not yet lost back-to-back games this season. Drew seems able to rally the troops after a defeat.
"We can't dwell on this one for too long," Drew said. "Cleveland State is an excellent team, and we don't have a very long turnaround.
"It's going to be a completely different style than (Loyola). They're going to defend us differently and attack us differently on offense."
The Vikings are known for their relentless pressure defense that often results in a lot of fouls. Valpo won both games last year, including 72-66 at the Athletics-Recreation Center on Jan. 15 when the Vikings were whistled for 23 personals. The Crusaders won the rematch in Cleveland, 59-41, after taking a 17-1 lead to start the game.
Cleveland State is led by guard Charlie Lee (12.9 ppg) and forward Tim Kamczyc (10 ppg, 4.1 rpg). The Vikings are missing leading scorer Anton Grady (13.77 ppg, 5.5 rpg), who played in the first six games before suffering a knee injury.
As for the Crusaders, Wednesday's dismal defeat snapped a seven-game home winning streak. Their 35.7 percent shooting performance was a season worst at the ARC. Valpo had entered the game shooting 49.8 percent (180 of 368) at home.