Down 69-67 in the waning moments of the game, victory was highly unlikely for the 13th seeded Valparaiso Crusaders. For the little guys from the Mid-Continent Conference, they would have to travel the length of the court in just 2.5 seconds if they were hoping to knock off 4th seeded Ole Miss in the first round of the 1998 NCAA Tournament.
But the little guys didn’t give in.
On an inbound pass from the opposite baseline, Valparaiso player Jamie Sykes launched a pass 3/4 of the court to teammate Bill Jenkins, who then quickly shuffled the ball over to none other than Bryce Drew, the coaches son.
Drew, the former Indiana Mr. Basketball, who had received scholarship offers from several other schools before deciding to stay home and play for Dad, had led his team and kept them in it all game long. So when his teammates got the ball into his hands with just over a second to go in the game, Drew launched a 23 foot three point shot for the win.
When the ball fell through the bottom of the net, they had done it. They had upset Ole Miss by a score of 70-69. Drew, who had poured in 22 points that night, dived onto the court in celebration while his teammates rushed the court and swarmed him in the aftermath of their improbable victory. Two days later, the underdog Crusaders would go on to beat 12 seeded Florida State to advance on to the Sweet 16 where they eventually fell to 8 seeded Rhode Island.
Nevertheless though, that shot remains one of the most iconic and memorable ones in tournament history.
And now, fifteen years later, Bryce Drew returns to the tournament where he made his namesake. Only this time he’ll be doing so from the sidelines, as the head coach of his former school.
In his second year as the head coach at Valpo, he has his team as the Horizon League Conference Champions and in the tournament as a 14 seed, where the Crusaders (26-7, 13-3) will take on the No. 3 seed Michigan State basketball team (25-8, 13-5). The game will tip off on Thursday at 12:15 PM and will be televised on CBS.
For Michigan State, the match up will mark the beginning of what they hope to be a long run in this year’s NCAA Tournament, but they shouldn’t exactly expect any walk in the park in this one.
“I think the most important thing is Valpo is a very, very good team,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said. “The number one issue we have is that this is a complete senior laden team with five starters, all seniors, two of them fifth year seniors. Experience at the end of the line, I think helps you play at a different level. So that’s the bad news for us.”
And leading that experienced group of seniors for the Crusaders is the senior from Frankston, Australia, Ryan Broekhoff. Broekhoff, at 6’7″, is a match up problem waiting to happen. He averages 15.9 ppg and can stretch the defense with his three point shot (43.2% on the season). But along with this, he can also put it on the floor and go by people as well as play strong on the inside, where he’s averaging 7.3 rpg.
Faced with versatile player like this, Michigan State will certainly have their hands full containing him.
“He’s a big time player,” Izzo said of Broekhoff. “They bring him off stagger and single screens, try to put him in different spots. They move him all over. So it’s going to be a tougher match up for AP (Adreian Payne) but one AP can handle.”
As for Payne, he also recognizes the the challenges of defending a player like Broekhoff.
“He’s a great shooter,” Payne said. “He’s going to be a tough cover. I’m going to have to buckle down and get ready to trail these pin downs.”
At the end of the day though, Michigan State certainly is the better team in this match up. And the fact that they’re basically playing the game in their own backyard down the road in Auburn Hills, gives them all the more the advantage.
However, they’ll still need to watch out though and bring their best game. We’ve certainly seen before what can happen from a Drew-led Valpo team in the month of March.
Follow Ryan Squanda on twitter @squandarunner