DETROIT— University of Detroit-Mercy sophomore Ray McCallum Jr. gave his father a wonderful birthday present with the Horizon League championship and automatic bid to the 2012 NCAA Basketball Tournament. Of course, it was really a team present to head coach Ray McCallum from all of his Titans as they beat Valparaiso on the road 70-50.

The Valparaiso Athletics-Recreation Center was packed and rocking as U. of D. (22-13) played great second half defense to take the crowd out of the game. The young McCallum had 21 points and a noteworthy four steals. After the game said, “I’ve been playing since I was 4 years old and this is the greatest feeling in the world.” He received tournament MVP honors as the Titans won four games in the Horizon double-bye format.

After a sluggish first half, Detroit moved up the pace and forced Valparaiso (22-11) into turnovers. At the break Valpo went into the locker-room up 27-24. “At halftime we talked about it being a 40-minute game,” coach McCallum said.

Detroit used a 12-1 run early in the half to seize a 37-32 lead. McCallum was the driving force in the run, converting a three-point play to start the burst, and knocking down a jumper.

“We said that we wanted to come out with a lot of energy and emotion in the second half, and play like it could be our last game,” the younger McCallum said. “Then Eli (Holman) got that big dunk and everyone seemed to feed off of the energy.”

The Crusaders were able to draw within eight, 58-50, but Detroit, the best free-throw shooting team in the Horizon League, knocked down all six of its free throws in the closing minutes. This will be the first NCCA trip for the Titans since the 1998-99 season.

Valparaiso head coach Bryce Drew was quick to recognize the younger McCallum’s effort, saying, “That was probably one of their best halves of the season. They’ve won nine out of their last ten and have been playing at a higher level lately. Ray is very active defensively. He played 39 minutes and didn’t seem tired at all. He’s really long and athletic and played at a high level tonight.”

While Valparaiso kept trying to go to Horizon League Player of the Year, Ryan Broekhoff in an effort to hang around but it was too late. Kevin Van Wijk dominated early for Valpo before succumbing to the knee trouble that plagued him down the stretch. Van Wijk had 12 points in the first half, finishing with 17. Broekhoff was held to just two points in the first half, but carried the Crusaders in the last 20 minutes with 11.

Senior guard Jason Calliste finished with 17 points and LaMarcus Lowe gave Detroit its third player in double figures, matching his career high with 14 points. Calliste said after the game, “We felt like we were in a good position after not playing good in the first half. It’s a 40 minute game so we started over in the 2nd half.” McCallum was joined on the All-Tournament Team by Calliste and Lowe. Broekhoff and Van Wijk of Valparaiso rounded out the team.

Valpo knocked out Butler (20-14), 65-46 in the semi’s and Detroit-Mercy beat Cleveland State (22-10), 63-58.

Detroit will learn its destination for the NCAA Tournament at 6 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 11, as part of the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on CBS-TV, while Valparaiso will head to the NIT.