HED:Gene Phelps: Valparaiso no one-shot wonder in NCAA field

CATEGORY: COL Columns (Journal)

AUTHOR: PHELPS

HED:Gene Phelps: Valparaiso no one-shot wonder in NCAA field

OKLAHOMA CITY – Valparaiso coach Homer Drew wants the college basketball world to know that his team is more than a one-shot wonder.

Friday, Drew’s team needed a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from his son, Bryce, to send Southeastern Conference power Ole Miss packing, 70-69, in the opening round of the NCAA tournament’s Midwest Regional at The Myriad.

Sunday, Drew’s scrappy bunch from the not-so-illustrious Mid-Continent Conference busted up another hoops bully, whacking Florida State of the Atlantic Coast Conference 83-77 in overtime to earn the school its first-ever berth in the hallowed Sweet 16.

“In our locker room we were very confident and really believed in one another,” Homer Drew said. “I think a lot of people overlooked the fact that against Ole Miss, the SEC (West) champion, that we played them 39 minutes. It wasn’t just the one shot. We played them well for the entire game.

“We knew, and we felt very good, that we could play with an ACC school.”

Let’s get physical

Valpo forward Bill Jenkins says his team’s motto coming into the tournament was to get physical.

“I think they (Ole Miss and FSU) thought we were weak because we were from a smaller conference,” he said. “We were a lot stronger than they thought. We made up our minds that we were going to box out, get rebounds and defend. We weren’t going to be intimidated.”

Valpo’s burly 7-foot, 250-pound center Tony Vilcinskas, who scored on a putback with 25 seconds remaining in OT to give his team a four-point lead, 81-77, said he had heard enough about how good Florida State was.

“All we heard was they are more athletic, can jump better, well, that got me fired up,” he said. “I was ready to play them last night.”

Vilcinskas said of his crucial putback, which came on a rebound of a missed shot by Drew: “I wanted the ball more than they did.”

Bob Jenkins, the twin brother of Bill, probably had the biggest basket for the Crusaders in overtime. With the score tied 77-77, Valpo missed on back-to-back jumpers by Drew and Jamie Sykes. But on Sykes’ miss, Jenkins grabbed the ball in a sea of gold jerseys and fired up the go-ahead putback with 1 minute, 34 seconds left.

“I was just doing my job, trying to box out,” he said. “They (FSU) play above the rim. I was just in position and put it in.”

Valparaiso’s strategy was to not get beat in the paint.

“They (FSU) had 52 points in the paint against TCU,” Homer Drew said. “We didn’t want to give them the easy transition baskets, the putbacks and the dunks. … It was a tremendous effort by Bill (Jenkins), Bob (Jenkins) and Tony (Vilcinskas) to come down with the ball. I was tickled they only outrebounded us by two (36-34) and they had only 12 offensive boards.”

Next stop, St. Louis

The Rebels and Seminoles will be sitting at home with the rest of us this week watching little ol’ Mid-Continent Valparaiso take on Rhode Island, which upset top-seeded Kansas Sunday.

How did that happen?

Maybe it was because, as Homer Drew said, “They played with all their heart and all their soul, and all their might.”

Added Sykes, a senior guard who will now be at least a week late reporting to minor league spring training for an outfield assignment with the Arizona Diamondbacks: “It’s truly a blessing. Nobody believed we could play with the big schools and beat them.”

Maybe Bob Jenkins summed it up best when he said: “It’s not time for Cinderella to go home.”

No, Cinderella’s heading for the Sweet 16 dance in St. Louis.

Gene Phelps is sports editor for the Daily Journal.