Tonight I was at the first round game of the CIT in Valpo. Knowing that they would not be in the big dance Valpo fans were hoping for a NIT bid. With all the weird things surrounding the conference tourneys this year that was a long shot. I am not the loyal Valpo fan, but I was happy that they did not get the NIT so that they could have at least one more home game. Tonight they played the team that Purdue’s opponent in the tourney St. Peter’s beat to get there. The Iona Gaels come in with a better RPI, but both teams appeared to be fairly even. On paper it looked as if it would be one good game.
Before I get into the game let me talk a little about the weird format for this tourney. Twenty four teams make up the field. Twelve opening round games are then played. The twelve teams left are then seeded according to RPI with the top four teams getting a second round bye. When the tourney started Valpo had the third best RPI with Iona coming in second. It seemed odd to me that the teams that would get a second round bye would play in the first round. This whole thing is confusing. Even the players really don’t have an idea of how the teams were picked. Coming into the game both teams knew the winner would get a bye with the top RPI team Marshall getting beat 65-64 by Ohio. Not only that, but the team who won would have home court advantage for the remainder of the tourney. That is huge because all the games will be played on campus sites. Whoever won this game would have the inside track to the tournament title.
Valpo started off well with a Ryan Broekhoff three pointer. They would not score again for a while letting Iona run out to an early lead. With the score 15-7 I started to get nervous. That eight point margin was very important. Valpo would get it down to six a few times, but the margin stayed around 8-10 for much of the game. With four minutes to go in the game Iona nailed a three to take a 17 point lead. A few people left, but Valpo put on a show to get to within eight. That was as close as they got, and they lost 85-77. That early eight point lead held up the entire game.
One thing that puzzled me was the fact that Brandon Wood was on the bench for what seemed like a large portion of the game. He is a dynamic scorer that they could have used. I am guessing that he was sick, but when he came into the game he looked really good. He only played 21 minutes tonight. That is just not right.
Iona had five players in double figures with another sitting at nine. That is spreading the wealth around. Early on it just seemed as if every bounce went their way. During the game I even tweeted about their luck when a free throw hit the top of the square on the backboard and then went through. You can be much further off and still make a free throw.
Valpo was led by Jay Harris who had 20. He really looked good, and it appeared he could get to the bucket whenever he wanted to. I think they can use him a little more next season. Howard Little and Cory Johnson finished their careers with 15 and 14 points respectively. I have not been to too many Valpo games, but I have enjoyed watching them play. They deserved a better exit than this. Unless you win the tourney you are in every player goes out on a loss, but this one was a long drawn out, painful one. Little had a mini run of scoring on his own after Valpo was down 17 to help them get back into the game. After scoring the first points of the game on a three Ryan Broekhoff ended up with five points. He had one great play with a flying grab of a rebound that led to a putback all while in the air. The shot rimmed off though. Something just looks off with him. The confident kid I saw against Purdue earlier this season didn’t seem to be there at the end of the season. I hope that he can find his shot before next season starts. The outside shot makes him very dangerous.
Let me get back to Cory Johnson, Howard Little, and Michael Rodgers. They all three played their last collegiate game tonight, and I wish they could have had one more victory at the ARC. I have enjoyed watching Johnson play for a while. You can tell everything about the guy by watching his intro. He makes contact with every player on the line. He is not afraid to get rough on the court. I have said it before that he really reminds me of a guy I used to play pickup basketball with. They both look similar, play similar, and were both born in Minnesota. It must be something in the water. Howard Little seemed to will his team back into the game when things started getting out of control. He scored his points in bunches when the team needed a bucket. Valpo will miss them next season for sure.
Erik Buggs only had three turnovers looking at the stat sheet. I was trying to guess his total on the way home, and I had it much higher than that. He was just struggling against the pressure tonight. Valpo won the turnover battle forcing 13 and only committing 12. They lost the points on turnover battle 21-8 though.
This was a physical game. The refs were really letting them play tonight. Late in the game Cory Johnson was absolutely nailed going up for a shot. It was either a defensive foul or charging. Very blatant in the middle of the floor with nobody around them. The refs let play continue only stopping it because the defensive player was hurt with all the contact. I am not saying that the refs cost Valpo the game. It was physical on both ends. It was just a rough game. I am used to watching the Big Ten too so that should say something when I say it was rough.