Valpo might have been unfairly left out NCAA Tournament, but the Crusaders are now 40 minutes away from taking home a postseason trophy.
The Valparaiso Crusaders used their elite defense to stay afloat in what was an at times ugly, albeit entertaining game. The Cougars and Crusaders combined for 38 turnovers. Valpo shot just 42.6% from the field while BYU was a miserable 38.2%. Despite all that this game, as a tournament semifinal between a one and two seed should, came down to the wire.
Five Crusaders, led by Alec Peters (15 points) and David Skara (15 points), scored in double figures. Kyle Collinsworth (20 points) paced the Cougars. Vashil Fernandez, the nation's leader in blocks, finished with three today.
For the first half, and a good bit of the second, Valparaiso looked to be in total control. After forcing three turnovers before BYU found the bottom of the net, and four in the first three minutes, the Crusaders built what would grow to as many as 15 points. It was supposed to be Valpo's defense against BYU's high-scoring offense. And it was, until BYU found something that they had been lacking all season long: quality defense.
A 1-3-1 zone stifled the Crusaders. With the 6-foot-6 Collinsworth or 6-foot-7 Zac Seljaas at the top of the zone the Crusaders found it tough to move the ball. BYU racked up a season-high 16 steals tonight.
When the Crusaders figured out how to beat that zone they did so at just the right time. After a Corbin Kaufusi (5 points) and-one with just over ten minutes to play made it a one possession game the Crusaders knocked down back-to-back threes to once again find some comfort.
But the Cougars stuck around and with 4:34 to play Kyle Collinsworth's old-school three point play made it 64-63 BYU. The Cougars had not led until that point.
With a minute to play and the teams knotted at 68 Shane Hammink (10 points) missed the front end of a one-and-one. The Cougars opted for a two for one finish and went for a quick shot at the other end. It was senior leader Collinsworth who took it, but he airballed the jumper from the left elbow.
Hammink, who had just missed a chance from the free throw line, pulled down the miss at the other end. He then set up a Skara three pointer with 20 seconds left.
Chase Fischer (16 points) hit a quick lay-up for the Cougars which made it a one point game in the final seconds, but then Hammink came through again. He knocked down a free throw and then blocked Fischer's half-court-heave at the buzzer to ensure the Crusaders would advance.
Valparaiso, which had never won an NIT game prior to this season, is now awaiting the winner of George Washington versus San Diego State. They'll play Thursday in the NIT Title Game.
BYU, playing in its second NIT Final Four in four years, once again exits a game early. The Cougars' season ends with a 26-11 record.