Crusaders clash with Phoenix for Horizon League crown

Mar 10, 2015 - 2:31 PM Valparaiso, IN ( - The top two seeds in the Horizon League Tournament square off Tuesday at Athletics-Recreation Center as the second- seeded Green Bay Phoenix battle the top-seeded Valparaiso Crusaders in the conference championship match.

The league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament is on the line for the winner of this clash.

Green Bay, the preseason favorite in the conference, earned a bye all the way to the semifinal round on Saturday, where the Phoenix took down Illinois- Chicago, 70-56, to reach the title match. The Phoenix finished the season with a 12-4 record against the Horizon League.

Valparaiso rebounded from a sub-par 2013-14 campaign riddled with youth and inexperience to take the regular-season crown in the Horizon League this year. The Crusaders finished with a 13-3 mark in conference play that was capped off by victories in nine of the team's last 10 games.

Green Bay and Valpo split the regular-season series, with each team picking up a narrow win at home. The Phoenix won 51-50 back in January, and the Crusaders were victorious less than a month later at home, 63-59.

Green Bay has won three games in a row, and four of the team's last five altogether entering the title bout. The Phoenix were ousted from the conference tournament early last season after getting the top overall seed. Green Bay has only won one tournament title - back in the 1995 season - and owns a 15-19 all- time Horizon League Tournament record. In fact, this is Green Bay's first league championship appearance since the 1998 campaign.

In the Phoenix's last loss to Valpo in February, the team shot just 32.7 percent from the floor, but managed to stay relevant thanks to 20-of-29 shooting from the free-throw line. Carrington Love netted 15 points to lead the squad, while star senior Keifer Sykes only scored seven on 2-of-13 shooting.Kykes enters the championship game leading the team in scoring at 18.9 ppg, adding in 126 assists. Greg Mays (12.3 ppg) and Love (10.4 ppg) round out a trio of double-digit scorers for the Phoenix.

Valparaiso has only won one other Horizon League Tournament in school history, which came just two seasons ago. The Crusaders, a relatively new program in the Horizon League, are just 8-6 all-time in the conference tournament. Valpo disposed of Cleveland State, 60-55, in the semifinal round on Saturday to reach the championship contest for the third time in the last four seasons.

Alec Peters leads the charge on the offensive end of the floor with 17.0 ppg, connecting on a healthy 49.9 percent of his shots from the floor. Darien Walker adds 11.1 ppg, and Tevonn Walker nets 10.5 ppg for a Crusaders team scoring 70.3 ppg. The team's defense has been stellar, allowing just 59.8 ppg to opponents this season. In the four-point win over Green Bay last month, Walker scored 20 points to pave the way to the win, while Peters chipped in 12 points and 10 rebounds for the double-double. Valpo held a 45-30 advantage in rebounding in that victory.

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