Milwaukee – WI – The Valparaiso Crusaders boast the Horizon League’s highest scoring player in Alec Peters, but it’s been the Valparaiso defense that has been mostly responsible for the Crusaders entering their Thursday night game against the Milwaukee Panthers with a league-best 8-1 record.
Entering the game allowing just 63 points per game, best in the Horizon League, the Crusaders held the Panthers to ten points below their scoring against average in running their conference record to 9-1 by defeating the Panthers 71-53.
“We’ve had success for a long time here being a defensive team,” said Valparaiso Coach Matt Lottich. “As long as I’m here, that’s going to be a priority.”
“If a team doesn’t score as much as we do, we win the ball game,” said Peters. “We have that focus for every single game. It’s a team effort, not just one person stopping one guy.”
Valparaiso starts an imposing front line of the 6-9 Peters, 6-7 Shane Hammink and 7-2 Derrik Smits. When Smits goes to the bench for a rest, the Crusaders lose very little in the height department with the insertion of 6-11 Jaume Sorolla. That is a huge front line by Horizon League standards and provides great rim protection for the Crusaders.
With Valparaiso clinging to a 21-19 lead with just over four minutes left in the first half, the Crusaders tightened their defensive screws and held the Panthers scoreless for the remainder of the first half to take a 26-19 lead into halftime. Valparaiso continued its stingy ways by holding Milwaukee scoreless for the first three-plus minutes of the second half as part of a 23-4 run over a 13 minute stretch spanning both halves. With the conclusion of that run, Valparaiso had built a comfortable 44-23 lead and was on its way to the win.
The Crusaders were led offensively, as they have for most of the season, by Peters, who tested the NBA draft waters after last season before deciding to return to Valparaiso for his senior season. With scouts from the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers in Milwaukee to scout Peters, the Horizon League’s preseason player of the year scored a game-high 22 points.
Peters’ game starts behind the three-point arc where his feathery jump shot is his calling card. He shoots primarily off the catch from distance with textbook shooting mechanics and pure rotation. Peters got it going early on Thursday night knocking down his first two attempts from behind the three-point arc. He made two more triples in the second half to finish with a four-for-five shooting night from behind the arc. After not visiting the free throw line at all in the first half, Peters went to the line eight times in the second half and drained all eight attempts to improve upon the impressive .902 free throw shooting mark he brought with him into the game.
Peters misfired on all five of his midrange shots in the first half. He shoots in the midrange off one-dribble moves and out of post-ups. But like most good scorers, Peters was not deterred by his midrange misfires in the first half. “You can’t lose your focus,” he said. “If you start hesitating, you get yourself into a little bit of a funk. If shots aren’t falling, maybe attack the basket a little more.”
Valparaiso also received double-digit scoring nights from freshman Micah Bradford and senior Hammink. Carrying a 3.5 points per game average into the game, Bradford put up a career-high 14 points by knocking down 3-of-4 shots from behind the arc and also contributing five rebounds to the Crusaders’ 34-24 rebounding advantage. “Micah has stayed the course. It’s not a surprise that he’s been playing well,” said Lottich.
Hammink is one of three Crusaders who can boast of a father not only with NBA experience, but a father taken in the first round of the NBA draft. Hammink’s father, Geert, was a 1993 pick of the Orlando Magic who went on to play parts of three seasons in the NBA. Smits’ father, Rik, played his entire 12-year NBA career with the Indiana Pacers after being drafted by the club in 1988. Chandler Levingston Simon, a 6-7 freshman, claims Cliff Levingston, an 11-year NBA veteran drafted by the Detroit Pistons in 1982, as his father.
Hammink started his career at LSU before transferring to Valparaiso. A left-hand dominant player to give defenses a different look, Hammink scores mostly in the midrange and at the rim driving primarily to his left to explore scoring opportunities off the bounce. He entered the game with a Horizon League ninth-best scoring average of 15.5 points per game and scored 12 against the Panthers.
Cody Wichmann led the scoring for Milwaukee with a 17-point night. But he had to work for his points and needed 16 shots to score his 17 points. Entering the game as Milwaukee’s leading scorer at just under 13 points per game, Wichmann found finding rhythm against the Valparaiso defense very difficult and did not dent the scoring column until the ten-minute mark of the second half. In addition to holding Wichmann scoreless in the first half, the Valparaiso defense limited Brock Stull, Milwaukee’s second leading scorer, to only two first-half points.
The Valparaiso game notes are stuffed with seasonal and career highlights of Peters, but perhaps his most impressive achievement is joining a group of about 50 players who established career scoring and rebounding records at their respective schools. In the basketball hotbed that is the state of Indiana, only Larry Bird of Indiana State and Luke Harangody of Notre Dame have posted more points and rebounds at a D-1 school.
Valparaiso continues its trek through the state of Wisconsin when it travels north to play Green Bay on February 4. Milwaukee concludes a two-game homestand also on February 4 when it hosts Illinois-Chicago.
This article was written by Tom Osowski, a correspondent and scout for NetScouts Basketball. You can subscribe to our RSS feed from the upper right corner of our home page, follow us on Facebook, or on twitter.
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