Ticket punched: Valparaiso wins defensive battle to capture Horizon title

Ticket punched: Valparaiso wins defensive battle to capture Horizon title

Valparaiso went more than 6 minutes without scoring in the first half of its Horizon League championship game battle with Green Bay on Tuesday night, but the Phoenix endured an even uglier stretch in the second half and Valparaiso took full advantage in its 54-44 win.

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The Crusaders went on a 15-0 run over an 8-minute span to take charge and pull away capturing the league championship and an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years.

It was a defensive struggle on both ends. Green Bay's long scoreless stretch was a product of poor shooting. The Phoenix made only 30 percent of its shots and 13 percent from behing the 3-point line.

Valparaiso made only 37 percent of its field goal attempts and 28 percent from behind the arc in a battle of the two worst free throw shooting teams in the Horizon League. Only three players scored in double figures for both teams combined. Green Bay got 14 points from guard Keifer Sykes.

E. Victor Nickerson scored six of his 11 points for Valparaiso in the final 6 minutes, including a drive to the basket in the final minute that gave the Crusaders the breathing room they needed. David Skara came off the bench to lead the Crusaders with 12 points. He made two of his four 3-point attempts.

Valparaiso won its 28th game of the season and could be seeded as high as No. 12 when the selection committee completes its work on Sunday.

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[Kyle Ringo is the assistant editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!