Mid-Major madness was in full force Saturday night in Valparaiso, Ind., where the Crusaders hosted the semifinals of the Horizon League men's basketball tournament.
In the first game of action, Green Bay took on an upset-minded UIC Flames team that landed a chance to play in the semifinals after upsetting the 3-seed Oakland Grizzlies on Friday night. Green Bay's Keifer Sykes was focused on sending the Flames home though and landed the Phoenix in the championship game after a 70-56 victory.
A first half back-and-forth battle had UIC headed to the locker room up 30-29, and right on pace for another upset. The second half had a different vibe to it as Sykes took over. He was intent on making sure that Green Bay got a chance to make the NCAA Tournament, unlike last season when the Phoenix were upset at home by Milwaukee.
Sykes, the conference player of the year, finished with a game-high 30 points on 10-for-20 shooting. Jay Harris led the Flames with 18 points and five assists.
Saturday's second game was much closer as Valparaiso held off Cleveland State in a 60-55 win. The Crusaders rode the shoulders of Alec Peters, who scored 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Cleveland State's Anton Grady finished with a double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds but it was not enough as Cleveland State saw their NCAA Tournament chances fade away.
Despite the good news of making it into the finals, the Crusaders took a big blow when when Tevonn Walker was injured and spent the entire second half with a brace on his right knee and crutches in his hands. After the game, Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew said, "If he doesn't come back and try to play then it's not good."
Valparaiso will host the Phoenix on Tuesday night at 7 Eastern, on ESPN, with a NCAA Tournament spot on the line.