Men’s Basketball Schedule (Feb. 9)
Valparaiso at Cleveland State, 7 p.m. ET – Horizon League Network
Butler at Youngstown State, 7:05 p.m. ET – ESPN3
Three weekends remain in the Horizon League men’s basketball regular season, and with five or six games remaining for each team, each night takes on added importance. A season’s worth of effort comes to a head in northeast Ohio on Thursday night, when two key conference games take place.
At the Wolstein Center, the winner of the Cleveland State–Valparaiso matchup comes out with a sizeable advantage in the race for the regular season championship and the hosting privileges that come along with it.
A win by Cleveland State (20-4, 10-2 Horizon) would put the Vikings two games clear of Valparaiso (17-8, 10-3 Horizon) in the loss column; should the Crusaders grab the victory, they would have the season sweep of CSU, providing a key tie-breaker should they need it.
On Jan. 25, it was Valparaiso denying Cleveland State a sweep of its road trip to Indiana, as Kevin Van Wijk fought through foul trouble to help the Crusaders overcome a four-point deficit midway through the second half with a career-best 23 points. The Vikings trailed 45-34 with 14:57 to play before reeling off a 21-6 burst to take the lead before Van Wijk returned with 8:48 remaining and four fouls.
Controlling the interior, Van Wijk helped Valpo go 27-for-45 from the field, the best shooting percentage against Cleveland State this season. Ryan Broekhoff added 14, while Jay Harris and Matt Kenney came off the bench as the Crusaders’ bench outscored the Vikings’, 24-9.
All nine of those CSU points came from Anton Grady, as the freshman was just getting started on an All-Newcomer Team campaign. Grady is averaging 8.3 points, 5.7 rebounds (10th in league) and 1.3 blocked shots (5th in league) in just 19.5 minutes per game off the bench. In League play, the freshman has upped those numbers to 9.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per game in Horizon League contests, scoring in double figures in nine of the 12 league games. He also has three double-doubles in his last five games, including last Sunday, when he finished with 12 points and 10 boards.
Grady’s post presence will be relied upon as he and Aaron Pogue will try to limit Van Wijk on the interior while the Vikings’ league-best defense will try to bottle one of the top offenses in the conference. With D’Aundray Brown a game-time decision, head coach Gary Waters will rely on seniors Trey Harmon, Jeremy Montgomery and junior Tim Kamczyc to lock down the perimeter, where Cleveland State is holding its opponents to 28.8 percent shooting from three-point range, 15th in the country.
Down I-80, third place in the Horizon League is up for grabs as Youngstown State (13-10, 8-5 Horizon) welcomes Butler (13-12, 7-6 Horizon) to the Beeghly Center in front of an ESPN3 audience.
Trailing the Penguins by a game in the conference standings, a win by the Bulldogs would draw them even with YSU and give them the series sweep – a potentially vital tie-breaker when the dust settles. If Youngstown State can improve to 8-2 at the Beeghly Center, they will draw one-half game ahead of Milwaukee (15-10, 8-5 Horizon), with whom they are presently tied for third. The victory would also put them two games clear of Butler with four games remaining for both teams.
Last year’s memorable meeting in Youngstown served as an impetus for both teams: for the Penguins, their 62-60 victory on Feb. 5, 2011, was a galvanizing force for the team, helping fuel YSU to its best year since in conference play since joining the Horizon League in 2001-02.
For Butler, the game served a more immediate purpose: refocusing a team that would not lose over its next 14 games, reaching the NCAA championship for the second consecutive year.
This year has been more of a struggle for the Bulldogs, but Butler showed what it is capable of on Jan. 15, when the team posted a 71-55 victory over the visiting Penguins. Butler controlled the interior against the perimeter-oriented Guins, as Andrew Smith scored a team-high 20 points and Kameron Woods added his third career double-double.
Smith scored 10 points in each half to compile his team-high total. He hit seven of 13 shots from the floor and was perfect on six free throw attempts in the game. He also pulled down six rebounds, including three offensive boards.
Woods came off the bench and pulled down four offensive rebounds in the first half and turned each into two points for the Bulldogs. He wound up scoring 10 points and grabbing 10 rebounds for the game.
As they have all year, Youngstown State entered that game as the top three-point field goal shooting team in the League, living up to the billing by hitting six of 12 long-range shots in the first half. But the visitors hit just two of 13 (.154) three-point field attempts in the second half. The Bulldogs counted by hitting five of nine (.556) long-range shots in the final period.
YSU continues to be the mad bombers of the conference, taking 23.4 threes per game and hitting on 9.1, the fifth-most in the nation on the 31st-best percentage.
Each Penguin has seemingly taken a starring role at some point this year, as all five YSU starters have collected Horizon League Player of the Week honors this season – the first time that has happened in conference history.
Last week, it was Kendrick Perry who shouldered the load as YSU went 2-1 on its swing through Milwaukee and Chicago. Perry averaged 25.7 ppg, shooting 60 percent from the field. In the Penguins’ two wins, the sophomore point guard had 30 and 28 points in victories at Milwaukee and Loyola, respectively.
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