GAME NOTES: With first place in the Horizon League all to themselves, the Valparaiso Crusaders try to build on their advantage tonight as they take on the Illinois-Chicago Flames at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
Missing a key piece of the starting lineup on Saturday in Kevin Van Wijk who sat out with a knee injury and is again listed as doubtful for tonight, the Crusaders saw their four-game win streak come to an end as they bowed to Youngstown State on the road, 71-53. However, even with the loss Valpo is still sitting at 11-4 in conference play, with Cleveland State a half game behind and also in action tonight against Milwaukee.
Meanwhile, UIC has a total of only two wins since the start of the new year, the last of them coming earlier this month against YSU ironically enough. Since then the Flames have been extinguished in back-to-back outings, falling to Loyola-Chicago on Saturday in a 78-69 final on the road. Needless to say, with a 3-11 record in Horizon League action, UIC isn't that much of an imposing group right now.
With respect to the all-time series between these two schools on the hardwood, the Flames are ahead by a count of 29-15, but the last five meetings have all gone to Valpo. The most recent of those contests took place last month in the Windy City with the Crusaders capturing a 60-55 triumph.
UIC fell behind immediately against Loyola on Saturday and was never able to recover, although the team did turn a 17-point deficit into just a nine-point loss. Gary Talton led the way with his 18 points and four assists, while Daniel Barnes chipped in another 15 points as the duo combined to make 13- of-28 shots from the field, which means their teammates connected on only 12- of-29 from the floor overall. Through 14 conference games, Talton leads the way with 13.9 ppg, but he is shooting just 38.8 percent from the floor over that stretch. Barnes (10.8 ppg) is also struggling from the field at only 37.8 percent, yet his 34-of-89 (.382) from three-point range makes up for some of that inaccuracy.
Slipping into the starting lineup with the injury to Van Wijk, Richie Edwards again had a big game for the Crusaders as he dropped in a team-best 19 points, but it wasn't enough to make up for a lackluster performance from most of his teammates. Ryan Broekhoff logged a double-double with 12 points and a team- high 11 rebounds, but at the same time he shot just 2-of-10 from the floor and 1-of-5 behind the three-point line. Off the bench Jay Harris chipped in 11 points, but he too had his issues from the floor (3-of-10) as the team shot a collective 31.9 percent from the field. In conference games Broekhoff is putting up 15.2 ppg as a 50.7 percent shooter from the floor who is also clearing 8.5 rpg. Should Van Wijk (13.9 ppg) be unable to go again tonight, Edwards will get the call to fill the void and in the last two games he has done just that with a combined 39 points. In fact, in the last four outings Edwards has piled up 71 points total which is more than one-third of his season total.
Without Van Wijk the Crusaders are missing a key offensive figure, but Edwards has shown that he can make up the difference and then some so Valpo should be alright at home tonight against an opponent that has yet to win a true road game.