VALPARAISO, Ind. (Horizon League) - Senior Ryan Broekhoff drilled a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give No. 1 seed Valparaiso a 70-69 win over No. 4 Green Bay and the right to host the Horizon League championship game on Tuesday night.
"At first, I was trying to get to the rim," Broekhoff said. "I kind of fumbled it a little bit ... I just kind of flung it up and hoped and prayed."
Broekhoff's game-winner was the second in two semifinal games as No. 3 Wright State had upset No. 2 Detroit 56-54 on a Miles Dixon jumper as time expired in Saturday night's first game.
Green Bay led for most of the last 10 minutes of the second half in game two, originally tying the game 49-49 on back-to-back baskets by Brennan Cougill at the 9:40 mark. After Valparaiso missed a pair of free throws, Phoenix guard Keifer Sykes was fouled hitting a layup and converted the free throw to give Green Bay a 52-49 lead, which would not be completely relinquished until Broekhoff's buzzer-beater.
Sykes followed up his traditional three-point play with an NBA-range 3-pointer. The sophomore took over the game late, scoring 13 of his game-high 31 points down the stretch.
Broekhoff helped keep Valpo close, though, including a 3-pointer at the 1:12 mark that tied the game at 64-apiece. The Crusaders had trouble hitting free throws, however, and it seemed the game might slip away after Sykes hit both ends of a one-and-one and Alec Brown hit the front end of his own to put Green Bay up 69-67.
Brown missed his second attempt, however. Kevin Van Wijk pulled down the rebound and handed the ball off the Broekhoff, who dribbled up the court with time winding down.
It appeared Broekhoff lost his handle on the ball near the top of the key, but he was able to gather the ball on the wing and swished the game-winning 3-pointer.
"I never expected it to go in," Broekhoff said. "It felt terrible coming out of the hands. I'm just so thankful that it went in."
The shot was taken from directly in front of head coach Bryce Drew, himself well-remembered for a famous 3-pointer that sent Valpo over Ole Miss in the 1998 NCAA Tournament.
"This is one of the best [shots] or maybe the best I have seen. I was right in front of it," Drew said. "He lost the ball and then had 6 or 10 players right in his face. I thought it was going to get blocked. It went straight through.
"Hundreds of games in the NBA, I sat on the bench, and this is comparable to any buzzer beater I've seen."
"I think it's still No. 2 all-time [in Valpo history] behind Coach," Broekhoff joked, before adding, "It's been an unbelievable year, and we are not done yet. We'ver still got one more game on Tuesday that we need to turn our attention to now."
Broekhoff finished the game with 25 points. Van Wijk chipped in 17 despite battling leg injuries throughout the game and Matt Kenney scored 14. Valpo improves to 25-7 on the year and will host Tuesday night's championship game against Wright State at 9 p.m. EST on ESPN.
Valparaiso had opened the game on an offensive tear, leading 13-4 at the first media timeout. Wright State recovered, however, and by the under-12 media timeout had cut the Valpo lead to 15-11.
The Raiders completed the comeback and tied the game 20-20 at the 4:43 mark. Wright State even took a brief lead late in the half, but Van Wijk scored on an acrobatic layup, scooping the ball underhanded into the basket, and completed the three-point play to give the Crusaders a 25-24 lead with 1:34 left on the clock.
Just over a minute later, Broekhoff hit a 3-pointer from the wing and was knocked down, drawing the foul. The Aussie completed the four-point play to give Valpo a 29-24 lead at halftime.
In addition to totaling 31 points on 11-of-20 shooting (and 4-of-6 from long range), Sykes grabbed five rebounds, dished out six assists and came up with a pair of steals for the Phoenix. Brown was Green Bay's only other double-digit scorer with 15 points, also pulling down six rebounds.
The Phoenix falls to 18-15 on the season.
"It was a hard-fought game. It was a heck of a college basketball game," Green Bay head coach Brian Wardle said. "We'ver been in back-to-back nights of great college basketball. It's a tough loss for this group.
"We battled through adversity the whole game and we just kept competing and making plays and put ourselves in a position to win the game, and that's all we can ask for on the road in this type of atmosphere. We were there. Give Ryan Broekhoff a lot of credit."