A season that started with lofty NCAA Tournament aspirations came to a crashing halt in Detroit for the Valparaiso men’s basketball team.
Pegged as Horizon League favorites for the second straight year, Valparaiso lost in its first conference tournament game, for the second straight year, this time falling prey to the Milwaukee Panthers 43-41.
With eight seconds remaining, Shane Hammink grabbed a rebound off the front end of a one-on-one missed free throw by Cody Wichmann. Hammink pushed up the floor finding teammate Max Joseph. Joseph got a clean look from beyond the arc and missed at the buzzer.
“I saw Shane getting double-teamed and when I got the ball I was just thinking, ‘We got a couple seconds left and I’ve got to get a shot up,’ Joseph said.”
The performance was by far the worst from the Crusaders offensively on the season. Prior to tip, Valpo’s lowest point total was 54, which came in a loss to No. 4 Oregon. This time Valpo scored just 41, shooting 31.9 percent from the field. It was also the first time all season that Valpo did not have a player reach double digits in scoring.
Milwaukee wasn’t much better offensively, shooting just 32 percent. But the Panthers managed to squeak out a win, backed by 11 points from Cody Wichmann.
In Alec Peters’ absence, freshman walk-on John Kiser made his first start of his collegiate career, and his presence was felt. Kiser scored eight points, effectively converting on three of four attempts, while grabbing seven rebounds and stuffing his stat sheet with a block and a steal.
Though Kiser excelled, his team couldn’t cover for the missing scoring that Peters consistently provides.
“I think it’s tough,” Joseph said. “But he was still with us on the sidelines. It felt like he was still on the court because of his voice, we could still hear his voice the whole time. It just felt like he was still there for me and for all of us.”
The loss effectively ended the Crusaders’ NCAA Tournament hopes for the second straight year. After spending a week waiting in limbo, Valpo received a bid to the NIT Tournament on Sunday. The Crusaders were awarded a No. 7 seed and will play No. 2 seed Illinois.
“They’re good,” said coach Matt Lottich of the Illini. “What’s kind of cool about the matchup is there are some Chicago area young men on their team and there are some Chicago area young men on our team. They know each other, they’ve played against each other for a long time. It’s going to be a competitive game. We’re excited to get down there.”
Valpo will play at Illinois Tuesday night at 6:15 p.m. Coverage is on ESPN 2.