Sunday, February 23, 2020

Rosenberg: Valparaiso's hot shooting keeps hope alive for a top six seed in Arch Madness

Photo Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

By: Jeremy Rosenberg

The great equalizer in college basketball is the three-point shot. Get hot from beyond the arc and you can overcome deficits, spur on an upset, and demoralize your opponent. It’s the stuff NCAA tournament dreams are made of. On a mild winter night in Indiana, the Valparaiso Crusaders were scorching from three, shooting 18-of-28 from deep. It was too much for Bradley to overcome, as the Crusaders cruised to a 90-78 victory.

The Braves bursted out of the gate to a 29-16 lead, led by senior point guard Darrell Brown, who finished with 14 points and four assists. Along with junior Elijah Childs (19 points, seven rebounds), the Braves looked in control and comfortable. Bradley’s two big men, Koch Bar and Ari Boya were dominant inside. It appeared that the defending MVC tournament champions were on their way to victory.

Enter Eron Gordon. The freshman from Indianapolis kept the Crusaders close, going 4-of-4 from three-point range in the first half. Gordon, along with freshman forward Ben Krikke, were standouts, but both teams were hot in the first half, with Bradley shooting 49 percent, and Valpo shooting percent. It seemed unlikely both teams could keep up the torrid pace, Bradley cooled down, and Valpo got hotter, shooting 61 percent in the second half.

Brown did his best to keep the Crusaders from running away with the game, but it was not enough. Bradley fell back to earth, and in the second half Valpo soared even higher, finishing the half shooting an unreal 11-of-15 from three. When Valpo sophomore Mileek McMillan heaved up an air ball with 4:40 left in the game, the crowd let out an audible gasp of shock.

Also notable was the smooth and confident play of Valpo super sophomore Javon Freeman-Liberty, whose calm demeanor and sure ball handling set the tone for the Crusaders all game long. Freeman-Liberty finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists, and has the look of a potential Arch Madness MVP come March.

The win keeps Valparaiso in the hunt for a coveted top six seed, improving their record to 15-14 (8-8), while Bradley 19-10 (10-6) will hold the number three or four spot depending on the outcome of tomorrow’s matchup between Southern Illinois and Northern Iowa.

Optimism will reign for Valpo, and while it will be difficult to duplicate tonight’s incredible shooting performance, this game will help catapult the Crusaders to St. Louis, where they will look to win their first Missouri Valley Conference tournament.

Get hot shooting threes at the right time, and any team can put a March run together. Whether or not the hot shooting continues will remain to be seen. For tonight, however, Valpo made a statement. They can shoot. And when you are raining threes, anything can happen.