By Joey Yashinsky
Taking a closer look at some of the top Horizon League performances from Saturday night...
JORDEN KAUFMAN (YOUNGSTOWN STATE)
It was the most pressure-packed one-foot layup of Jorden Kaufman’s life. The raucous crowd at Joe Louis Arena was at a fever pitch, the clock was ticking down to zero, and improbably, the ball was headed right to him. Without a soul in sight. “I mean, yeah, I was nervous. It’s a shot I’ve made hundreds of times. I just had to make it. As soon as it went through, it was great.” He reached up, laid the ball softly off the square, and as the buzzer sounded, it was sheer pandemonium in the Youngstown State section of Joe Louis Arena. The rest of the packed crowd, many of them Oakland supporters, sat in stunned silence. The final sequence will garner all of the discussion and late-night highlights, but for the second consecutive game, Jorden Kaufman was dominant on the inside. He recorded another double-double, 22 points and 10 rebounds, and generally caused the Golden Grizzlies fits trying to keep him away from the offensive glass. March Madness has long been defined by surprise performances and unsung heroes. This fits the ball on both fronts. Through two nights, Jorden Kaufman has been the story of the Horizon League tournament.
CAMERON MORSE (YOUNGSTOWN STATE)
Cameron Morse hoisted 28 shots on Saturday night. He put up 11 from downtown. Got to the free throw line five times. Nobody will remember any of it. But they’ll remember what he did on the last possession of this Horizon League instant classic: he passed. It was a brilliant play and one almost never seen at any level of basketball. For many years now, final shot sequences go like this; inbound to your best player, let him dribble the clock all the way down, then attempt a well-guarded fadeaway from 20 feet. All or nothing. But for said All-Star player to pass? Practically unheard of. Until now. Of course, Morse did so much more for the other 39 minutes and 57 seconds. He went for a game-high 34 points and carried the Penguins on offense for long stretches of the contest. After the game, Morse happily described the moment that sent his underdog Penguins to the tournament semi-finals. “Coming out of the timeout, in my head, I’m like, ‘I’m gonna shoot the shot, no matter what.’ Then I came off the screen, 3.3 left, I took one dribble and saw (Isaiah) Brock at the elbow. Then I see Jorden under the basket and I’m like, ‘Why is he so open?’ I just went up and got it down to him. GAME.”
JALEN HAYES (OAKLAND)
There’s no argument that Cameron Morse was the best player on the court -- in the first half. The second 20 minutes belonged to Jalen Hayes, Oakland’s super-athletic forward with a soft lefty touch. He scored 16 of his 27 points in the second half and nearly willed the Oakland Golden Grizzlies to victory. Hayes was a monster on the boards, collecting 13 rebounds. And for almost the entire evening, he was aces at the foul line, too. His first five free throws were all makes. Unfortunately, with the stakes at their highest - on the front-end of a one-and-one with Oakland up by just a point - the ball rimmed out. But one hiccup at the free throw line can’t take away from what was a banner year for Hayes, becoming a first-team All-Horizon performer and one of the top double-double threats in the country. He’ll likely enter next season as one of the leading candidates for Conference Player of the Year honors.
CODY WICHMANN (MILWAUKEE)
In a game dominated by defense, Wichmann stood out in the second half with his clutch shot-making. Of course, 3-of-13 from the field and 2-of-9 from 3 is not setting any Horizon League records, but in this slugfest quarterfinal, it was just good enough. In fact, the senior Wichmann was the only player from either team to register more than one triple. Late in the game, Wichmann was fouled shooting a 3. He cashed in on all of them. A couple minutes later, he connected from deep. In a game where baskets were at an extreme premium, Wichmann’s timely conversions made all the difference in the world.
DEFENSE (MILWAUKEE & VALPARAISO)
This was football played on a basketball court. Players weren’t just fighting for points; they were fighting for literally every single inch of the floor. Milwaukee led Valpo 16-12 at the half. The Crusaders didn’t have a single scorer over eight points. Players from both schools said after the game that a large part of the offensive struggles had to do with the exhaustive efforts they were putting forth on defense. Panthers’ coach LaVall Jordan credited his workhorse Brett Prahl (the Prahl Driver) for acting as a “wall” on the game’s final play; in this battle of wills, where penetration was non-existent and made baskets were likened to hidden treasures, that was the highest compliment you could pay."