|Tuesday, March 11
Murray vindicated, Jaguars revel in Mid-Con title
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- All last season, Josh Murray endured the second-guessing.
Why in the world, his friends asked, would anyone transfer from Ball State -- one year after playing in the NCAA tournament with the Cardinals -- to play his final season with Indiana-Purdue-Indianapolis?
Why move down to the Mid-Continent Conference, a low-major league where Valparaiso -- another Indiana school, even -- was the only program with any national recognition and had a near-stranglehold on the conference's automatic (read "only'') NCAA tournament bid?
On Tuesday night, after the Jaguars beat Valparaiso 66-64 in the conference tournament finals -- and he was named tournament MVP -- Murray's smile held all the answers.
But he didn't stop there.
"I know I've done a lot of talking,'' said Murray, who scored 17 points as the second-seeded Jaguars (20-13) earned an automatic bid to their first NCAA tournament in only their fifth season in Division I. "I want to talk a little longer.
"Everybody asked me, 'Why you want to leave Ball State?' Then they went off to Maui last year and got a couple of wins, and their bandwagon really started rolling,'' Murray said. "But now I've got two championship rings with two different schools. Not too many people can say that.''
Murray couldn't say it either, until Matt Crenshaw -- a 26-year-old Navy veteran -- drained an 18-foot jump shot with one second to play and Josh Mullins stole the ensuing inbounds pass from the top-seeded Crusaders as time ran out.
"I was just trying to keep everybody calm after Matt hit his shot,'' Murray said. "Valpo's a championship team, and you can't ever count them out.''
Top-seeded Valparaiso (20-10) had won seven of the last eight Mid-Continent tournaments, but even the Crusaders' 20 wins and name recognition are unlikely to earn them an NCAA at-large bid.
"There's as much chance of me buying a one-dollar ticket to the lottery and winning as there is of us getting into the NCAA,'' coach Scott Drew said. "I think our RPI is high enough that we can get into the NIT.''
Mullins led the Jaguars with 18 points but nearly saw that performance wiped out by a late turnover.
Valparaiso managed only six field goals in the final 10 minutes. But the Crusaders hit three baskets in the final 1:03 and forced a 64-all tie when Raitis Grafs put back Stalin Ortiz's missed 3-pointer with 10 seconds left.
Ortiz only had the ball, though, because it went off Mullins' foot and rolled right to him.
"Thanks, man,'' Mullins said in the postgame news conference, grinning as he grabbed Crenshaw around the neck and rubbed his head.
Chris Sanders added 12 points and Odell Bradley had 11 for the Jaguars, whose last national tournament berth came in the 1990 NAIA Division II tournament.
"All I could think about as I watched (Crenshaw's) shot go in was about coming up from the NAIA, from (NCAA) Division II -- about trying to build this program,'' coach Ron Hunter said. "Nobody believed we could do this -- no one but us.''
The game was a rematch of last year's final, an 88-55 Valpo rout. This time, each team made a run in the first half but failed to take control in the second.
IUPUI led 63-56 on Crenshaw's steal and layup with 1:21 to go, but Ortiz hit a 3-pointer with 1:03 left and Grafs hit another with 19.4 seconds to go to cut the margin to 64-62.
Grafs led Valparaiso with 21 points and 13 rebounds. Ortiz added 14 points and eight rebounds for the Crusaders, who lost despite a 42-27 rebounding edge.
Mullins hit two 3-pointers and scored eight straight points in a 10-0 run that gave IUPUI a 13-3 lead less than five minutes into the game, and the Jaguars were still up 25-16 with five minutes left in the half.
A 9-0 run late in the half, capped by Ortiz's layup, gave the Crusaders their first lead at 28-27 before Brandon Cole's basket with 40 seconds left gave the Jaguars a 30-28 halftime advantage.
The Crusaders scored the first six points of the second half to go up 34-30, but a 7-0 run gave IUPUI a 58-52 lead with 5:36 left and the Jaguars never trailed again.