Wednesday , Mar , 10 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Drew leads Valpo back to Mid-Con title

=== Drew leads Valpo back to Mid-Con title ===

Kansas City, MO (Sports Network) – Joaquim Gomes poured in a team-high 23
points, as Valparaiso won the Mid-Continent Conference Tournament championship
with a come-from-behind 75-70 victory over IUPUI at Kemper Arena.

Ali Berdiel chipped in 16 points and six assists for the top-seeded Crusaders
(18-12), who earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and won their
eighth conference tournament title in the last 10 seasons. Roberto Nieves
scored 13 points and pulled down seven rebounds, while Dan Oppland added 10

“I never thought I would be back so soon,” said Valpo head coach Homer Drew,
who led the school to seven NCAA Tournament appearances during his first stint
as the program’s leader. Drew stepped down prior to last season and was
succeeded by his son Scott, who left for Baylor during the past off-season. “I
really was enjoying working for our school president. But when Scott left, we
had already started classes, and we already had the team in place.”

Odell Bradley scored a game-high 26 points and collected eight boards for
second-seeded IUPUI (21-11), which was denied its second straight tournament
title. Matt Crenshaw and Brandon Cole scored 18 and 13 points, respectively.

“I’ve got some warriors, guys that will battle,” IUPUI head coach Ron Hunter
said. “I would die for anyone of them. This team isn’t a KU (Kansas), a Duke
or an IU (Indiana) and what these guys have done over the past few years,
getting to the championship game and getting to the NCAA Tournament, it’s

It marked the third straight year that both teams met in the conference
championship game, as IUPUI won last season’s tilt.

“Last year was a good lesson,” Gomes said. “We made sure that we were together
at the beginning of the game and we just didn’t want this to be our last

IUPUI led 57-47 with 9:52 to play on a Bradley jumper, as Valpo, which
overcame a 17-point deficit to defeat Missouri-Kansas City in the semifinals
on Monday night, looked to be weary playing its third game in as many days.

However, a pair of Kenny Harris free throws and a Nieves three on consecutive
Crusader possessions sparked a 13-3 run. Gomes’ dunk capped the burst to tie
it at 60-60 with 6:07 left in the contest.

Crenshaw raced down the court and hit a running jumper in the lane to put
IUPUI back up by two, but the Crusaders reeled off the next six points to grab
a 66-62 edge with 2:01 to go.

Both teams swapped baskets before Crenshaw hit two foul shots with 27 seconds
remaining to pull IUPUI within 70-68.

Oppland was immediately fouled and converted both free throws, while Bradley
raced down the court and drove the lane for a layup with 18 seconds left to
get it back to a one-possession game at 72-70.

But Greg Tonagel followed with a pair of free throws at the other end of the
court and Berdiel hit a foul shot with three seconds remaining on the
Crusaders’ next possession to close out the scoring and seal the win.

“You know, we started out 4-9 and it seemed as if everyone was writing us
off,” Drew said. “But, I wish everyone could see how these guys practice
because they work hard and kept getting better and better.”

Valparaiso made 4-of-5 shots to start the game, including a three from
Berdiel, as the Crusaders built a 14-10 edge six minutes into the contest.

But Valpo followed by going through a cold 3-of-15 stretch from the field, and
IUPUI used the opening to go on an 18-4 run to build a 28-18 advantage with
7:47 remaining until halftime. The flurry was keyed by the initial 11 points
from Cole and capped by a Bradley driving layup down the lane.

The Jaguars extended their lead to as many as 12 at 33-21 on a pair of
Crenshaw free throws with 4:33 left. However, Valpo shook of the cold
shooting and outscored IUPUI 8-2 the rest of the half, on the strength of
back-to-back threes from Berdiel and Gomes, to get within six at 35-29
heading into the intermission.