The Wright State players exited Homer Drew Court without a look back at the celebration.
By the time the Valparaiso players started pulling on the Horizon League championship T-shirts, the Raiders had returned to the locker room to ponder the lost opportunity, though they could surely hear the cheers echoing through the walls.
Maybe a year from now, the Raiders will look back on the moment as a learning experience. Maybe the disappointment will pave the way for them to win the championship in 2014, in the same way that Valparaiso’s loss to Detroit in the 2012 final had a lot to do with that they did on Tuesday night.
In the aftermath of the 62-54 loss to the Crusaders, it was hard for the Raiders to do anything but marvel at how close they came to pulling off the upset.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the way a group of young men played a second 20 minutes,” Wright State coach Billy Donlon said. “A lot of teams could have wilted and called it a day. We fought back. We took a lead. We guarded a very good team. I’m really proud of our Wright State team tonight.”
The Raiders took 13 more shots than Valparaiso in the second half and turned a 36-25 halftime deficit into a 47-42 lead with a 22-8 run to start the half. Wright State earned its first tie of the second half at the 10:52 mark on a layup by Miles Dixon and took the lead on a 3-pointer by Reggie Arceneaux with 9:25 to go.
Valparaiso was stuck at 42 points from the 11:25 mark to the 6:35 mark. A steal and fast-break layup by Eric Buggs at the 4:22 mark helped get the Crusaders going again.
“That really brought some momentum and life back to our team,” Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew said. “When you go that long and you don’t score, it sucks the energy out of you. I kept using our time-outs to try to break their rhythm and get back into ours. Once Eric made a couple of those plays, everyone else started to jump in.”
Van Wijk’s ankle: Valparaiso big man Kevin Van Wijk, of the Netherlands, sprained his ankle in Saturday’s semifinal win over Green Bay, but he played 32 minutes Tuesday and had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Van Wijk’s parents stayed at the Country Inn and Suites just off campus, and after returning to the hotel following the game, his dad Henk, wearing a No. 55 Van Wijk jersey, showed a reporter a cell phone photo of Van Wijk’s ankle. It was black and blue, and the dad was surprised his son was able to play as well as he did on it.
All-tournament team: Arceneaux and Dixon joined Valparaiso’s Buggs and Ryan Broekhoff and Green Bay’s Keifer Sykes on the all-tournament team. Buggs was named tournament MVP.
Arceneaux scored 11, seven and 14 points in the three tournament games against Youngstown State, Detroit and Valparaiso. Dixon had 14, 14 and six.
Buggs’ big day: Buggs, one of six seniors for Valparaiso, led all scorers with 22 points. He made 9-of-13 shots from the field.
It was his highest-scoring game of the season. Buggs hadn’t scored more than 15 before Tuesday. He scored a total of 11 points in the first two games against Wright State.
Buggs scored eight points in the semifinal win over Green Bay.
“It means a lot,” he said. “I’ve played with these guys for four years. Getting over that hump and getting to the NCAA means a lot to me. It means a lot to be able to get my brothers to the point, where we’ve been trying to reach since we first signed our letters of intent.”
Looking ahead: Wright State could get a postseason invitation to the CollegeInsider.com tournament or College Basketball Invitational.
“We’ll worry about that when we get home,” Wright State coach Billy Donlon said.
Said AJ Pacher, “I guess we’ll make a team decision when we get back. It’s hard to go out on this one. This one stinks. I’m not sure. It’s up to what the guys think and what coach thinks. Either way, there are positives and negatives.”
Summing it up: Arceneaux, Wright State’s sophomore point guard, was asked to sum up Wright State’s season. The Raiders finished 21-12 a year after going 13-19.
This was Wright State’s fourth Horizon League championship game. It won in 2007 and lost in 1995, 2010 and 2013.
“Picked last, finished third, tough preseason workouts, you name it,” Arceneaux said. “Everyone was against us. It was just us against the world. We took that on as a young team. I’m proud of our guys. I’m proud of coach Donlon and his staff. They never gave up on us.”