Bryce Drew is pretty familiar with the NCAA Tournament, and the NCAA Tournament is pretty familiar with Bryce Drew.
Drew, 40, authored one of the most iconic moments in tournament history in 1998, hitting a three-pointer at the buzzer to lead No. 13 Valparaiso to a 70-69 win over No. 4 Ole Miss. Now the head coach at Valparaiso, Drew has the Crusaders dancing again. They’ll face No. 4 Maryland (27-6, 14-4) in Midwest Regional action this Friday at 4:40 p.m. ET.
“Anytime you see your name in the brackets, it’s a great blessing, and I thank God that we had this opportunity to play in the tournament,” Drew said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “As a player, I enjoyed it a certain way. I think as a coach, my enjoyment comes from seeing the happiness and the fulfillment from our guys and from their families that are experiencing it for the first time.”
Valparaiso (28-5, 13-3) won the regular-season and conference-tournament championships in the Horizon League. The Crusaders are 20-3 in their last 23 games, with the three losses coming by a combined 10 points – including one in overtime.
Facing Horizon League runner-up Green Bay in the championship, Valparaiso used a 15-0 run in the second half to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re the least experienced team in our league, and yet our kids play with a lot of maturity and they play well beyond their years,” Drew said. “We’ve won some games very ugly this year at the end. I kind of look and I’m just like, ‘How did we win that game?’ But we’ve had great (chemistry) this year. They’re such great kids to be around. They get along together. I think when we’ve gotten in close games, their togetherness has been a difference out on the floor.”
Valparaiso overcame several injuries this season, especially at the point guard position.
“We played a 6-8 point guard who had double hip surgery – the A-Rod surgery – in the offseason, and we didn’t know if he was going to be able to play this year,” Drew said, referring to junior E. Victor Nickerson. “Now we’re in the NCAA Tournament . . . so we’re really excited for this week of practice to prepare for Maryland.”
Valparaiso has been led by Horizon League Player of the Year Alec Peters. A 6-9 sophomore forward, Peters averaged 16.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game this season. He also shot 49 percent from the floor, 46.2 percent from three and 84.1 percent from the foul line.
“He’s super passionate about the game, he loves to compete and he loves to win,” Drew said. “He’s a pure shooter, and yet he’s strong enough to go down and post up some. He’s been the heart of our team. He has a tremendous work ethic. I think it’s just rubbed off on the other guys.”
The Crusaders are seeded No. 13 – the same seed with which they reached the Sweet 16 in Drew’s senior season.
Drew was asked if his players are aware of his all-time great moment.
“I think they know a little bit about the history,” he said. “As far as that particular moment, it’s usually not until they get here because it was so long ago. We recruit these kids (and) they really have no idea. But we’ve talked about legacy, and our program has a tradition of being competitive on a national scene. So our players are well-aware of that heading into the tournament.”