The 2015 Horizon League Championship was all that was expected and more Tuesday night. The Valparaiso Crusaders battled back from a 10-point deficit against Green Bay to gain the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament with a 54-44 victory.
Perhaps it was all good mojo stemming from an early surprise sprung on the fans by Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew. Despite a knee injury which sidelined him during the game against Cleveland State, Tevonn Walker was seen warming up and then announced as the last starter for the Crusaders. He had left Saturday's game on crutches but seemed to be able to walk fine on the injured leg Tuesday. Tevonn would start the game but only play for the first four minutes. He would not return.
The boost gave Valparaiso something to cheer for, an expression of joy that was lacking during the first half as Green Bay rushed out to a 10-point lead. The Crusaders struggled to find a rhythm until they managed to score the last four points of the first half, the final two on a slam by Vashil Fernandez. The dunk cut the lead to six: not great, but manageable.
And while that dunk gave Valparaiso a boost of confidence at the beginning of the second half, Green Bay was able to keep the lead extended at seven with 12 minutes remaining.
But that is where the tide changed. Alec Peters hit a jumper, Jubril Adekoya found the seam for two layups, and Keith Carter sank a 3-pointer. It was a 15-0 run that put Valpo ahead, and ignited the home crowd into an electric fervor more intense than any this season.
The crusaders would finish off the game by knocking down the ever important postseason free throws. By the time they were forced to the line, the game had been sealed and the ticket to the NCAA Tournament punched.
David Skara stepped up for Valparaiso on Tuesday night, scoring 12 points most of which came in the first half, allowing the Crusaders to stay within sight of the Phoenix.
In the second half, Valpo turned around its scoring woes, improving from 29 percent shooting before the break to 37 percent after. Along with a stiff defense that held Green Bay to just 25 percent shooting, the Crusaders made the right adjustments at the right time.
Peters took home the Tournament MVP award, but more importantly will lead his team into the NCAA Tournament for the second time in the last three years. The Crusaders will look to pull off some Cinderella magic again, just like Drew did in 1998.