Wright State has every reason to be mad at us. We gave them absolutely no shot to beat Valparaiso in the Horizon League Championship game.
Then again, no one gave Wright State much of a chance to do anything in the league this season. They showed us.
If someone wants to hire us as bulletin board material for their team, we are all in. After all, the Raiders almost pulled this one off against the Crusaders, causing turnovers left and right before the shots stopped falling. Valpo walked away with a win, 62-54, but there are a lot of bruises and a major headache following Bryce Drew around for the next couple of days.
Perhaps we should have seen this coming. Wright State was one of the top defensive teams in the Horizon League and the country this season. That turned into ... oh, only 25 turnovers by Valparaiso.
For a good stretch of the second half, it seemed that there was nothing the Crusaders could do to get to the basket. Every possession got within five feet of the basket, and then the ball magically ended up in the hands of a player with a green jersey on.
Valparaiso didn't get a shot off; Valparaiso didn't get a look. This one looked like it was going to be a replay of last year all over again.
But this was the same Valparaiso team that we watched all season, the one with depth and a number of weapons to convert into scoring and defense of their own. So it didn't matter that Ryan Broekhoff went 2-for-8 from the field, or that Kevin Van Wijk managed just three baskets of his own (and seemed to be costing the Crusaders at the foul line).
This is why you have a player like Erik Buggs, who can take over a game if need be (22 points, three assists, four steals). He did a better job of it than Reggie Arceneaux and so Valpo will be walking away with the hats and pieces of the home-court nets.
Arceneaux tried. He really did. He almost willed this Wright State team to a win while scored 14 points and pulling three steals to contribute to the 24 turnovers. And he had a lot of help from Jerran Young, who seems destined to be all-conference next year given this breakout performance over the final month of the season.
The stat line won't show what he did tonight. Seven points and two boards don't stand out. One block doesn't stand out (although there was at least one that didn't count because of a goaltend -- we called both "Not Today!"-quality swats). What is missing is the two charges he took while braving his fourth foul.
His was a performance that lost out because he had to spend time on the bench in the first half with two fouls. The second half showed that he could play without being afraid of that next call against him.
Since Feb. 20 -- the game after the last time Wright State played Valpo -- Young has six games with double-digit scoring, and at least five boards in every game but one. And to think that his best moments don't show up in the box score.
But this Valparaiso team wasn't going to be denied. Not after the comeback against Green Bay, not after last season's disappointment against Detroit.
Broekhoff finally hit a three in the final two minutes, adding an eerie echo to the game-winner over the Phoenix in the semifinals. It was his first basket in almost 35 minutes, and it came just when the Crusaders needed it, right in the middle of a 5-plus-minute scoreless streak by the Raiders.
After that, it was a matter of just holding onto the ball and making free throws. Valpo was back, and back in the NCAA Tournament. That was a long time in coming.