Sioux Falls, S.D. – Kyle Mangas hit a go-ahead jumper with just over a minute left to put No. 1 Indiana Wesleyan into its third national championship game with a 75-72 win over No.1 overall seed IU East in the first semifinal game of the NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Championship.
With the game tied at 69 following a basket by IU East senior Lucas Huffman, Mangas scored on a nifty spin-move in the lane for the final two of his game-high 20 points to give his team a 71-69 lead.
Jacob Johnson converted two free throws after IU East missed on three shots to tie, giving IWU a four-point lead with 14 seconds left. Bishop Smith knocked down a long three-pointer for the Red Wolves to make it a one-point game and, forced to foul, put Joel Okafor at the line where the senior made both free throws. IU East’s desperation three-pointer to tie was well short and the Wildcats advance to play in their third title game, all within the last five years.
Indiana Wesleyan was led by its backcourt, Mangas (20 points, nine rebounds) and Okafor, who did not miss a shot (6-6 FG, 6-6 FT) on his way to a career-best 18 points. Evan Maxwell added 15 points, 13 in the second half, and 12 rebounds, while Grant Smith chipped in 12.
“The game was very physical but at the end we made one more play,” said Indiana Wesleyan head coach Greg Tonagel. “Before the free throws, we were up one and that is what these games come down to. This is our fourth game in five days and our guys are absolutely exhausted. It wasn’t the prettiest basketball but when you win and move on you sure feel pretty good.”
The Wildcats scored on their first six possessions and made 10 of their first 12 shots as they raced out to a 23-9 lead. Down 11 (27-16) and with the game on the line, IU East came back with a 19-6 run behind the shooting of Jacoby Claypool and Huffman, who both drained a couple of three’s during the surge. Indiana Wesleyan reclaimed a slight lead by half, 37-35.
Neither team was able to pull away in the second half as the largest lead was five after a basket by Mangas put Indiana Wesleyan up 69-64 with four minutes left. Huffman came back with a three-pointer and a floater in the lane, five straight points, to tie the game at 69, setting up the final two-plus minutes.
Indiana Wesleyan shot 55% for the game and held a 38-28 edge on the boards. The Wildcats avenged a one-point loss to IU East earlier this season.
“They (IU East) had not lost since November and won 28 in a row which is absolutely amazing. Those guards can get after you. They took us out of some things because they are so quick defensively,” commented Tonagel.
IU East was led by Huffman, who closed his career with 16 points, going 3-for-4 from beyond the arc. Jaylen McKay scored 13 and both Smith (11) and Jacoby Claypool (10) were also in double figures. The Red Wolves had their 28-game win streak snapped and close the year with a program-best 34-3 record.
Indiana Wesleyan, now 30-7, advances to play in its third championship game, winning the title in 2014 and 2016. They will play the winner of No. 1 seed College of Idaho or No. 2 seed University of Saint Francis (Ind.). on Tuesday night, March 13. Tip-off at the Sanford Pentagon is a 6pm and will be aired on ESPN3.