SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – For the third time in five years Indiana Wesleyan University men’s basketball has an opportunity to raise the red banner. Indiana Wesleyan defeated the top-overall seed and No.1-ranked IU East 75-72 in a thrilling national semifinal game on Monday evening.
- NAIA DII National Championship Fab Four
- Score: Indiana Wesleyan def. IU East, 75-72
- Records: Indiana Wesleyan 30-7 | IU East 34-3
- NAIA Top- 25 Rank: Indiana Wesleyan – No. 4 | IU East – No. 1
- Championship Seed: Indiana Wesleyan – No. 1 | IU East – No. 1
- Location: Heritage Court | Sanford Pentagon | Sioux Falls, South Dakota
- Evan Maxwell: 15 points, 12 rebounds
- Joel Okafor: 18 points, 6-6 FG, 6-6 FT, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals
- Kyle Mangas: 20 points, 9 rebounds
- Grant Smith: 12 points, 6-9 FG, 3 rebounds
HOW IT HAPPENED
- Midway through the opening half, the Wildcats built their largest lead of 14 at 23-9. But the Red Wolves responded with a 24-8 charge to gain their first lead of the night at 33-31. IWU led 37-35 at the half.
- IU East led 60-56 with 8 minutes left in the game when Indiana Wesleyan used a 13-4 run to capture a 69-64 advantage with 4 minutes to play. The five point lead was the largest for either team in the second half.
- Following a 5-0 IU East run to knot the score at 69, Kyle Mangas scored down low with 1:24 to play for a 71-69 Wildcat lead. On the next Red Wolves possession, IUE missed a 3-pointer, had a shot blocked, and then committed a turnover.
- Next time down the court, IU East could not capitalize on a second straight possession as Jacob Johnson grabbed the defensive rebound and was fouled. He hit both free throws for a lead of 73-69 with 14 ticks on the clock.
- IU East hit a clutch 3-pointer with 8.9 seconds left and trailed by just one at 73-72. The inbounds pass went to Joel Okafor and he was fouled with 8.1 seconds. Okafor connected on both free throws for a 75-72 lead.
- IU East brought the ball down the court, worked it to Bishop Smith, and the potential game-tying 3 at the buzzer was off the mark and set off a celebration in Marion.
INSIDE THE BOXSCORE
- Joel Okafor picked a prime time to have a career-game. The junior finished with a career-best 18 points on 6-of-6 shooting and 6-of-6 from the foul line. He added three rebounds, three assists, and two steals.
- Indiana Wesleyan dominated down low with a 38-28 rebound advantage and a 52-34 advantage in points in the paint. Meanwhile, IU East outscored IWU 30-6 in shots from beyond the arc.
- IU East had their 28-game win streak snapped and lost for the first time since November 17, 2017.
- Indiana Wesleyan advances to the national title game for the third time in five years. IWU went on to win both times in 2014 and 2016.
- IWU has the opportunity to join elite company in NAIA DII. Only three programs have won three national championships: Bethel (95-97-98), Cornerstone (99-11-15), and Oregon Tech (04-08-12).
- The Wildcats improve to 28-8 all-time at the national championship and are 19-2 since the beginning of the 2014 tournament.
COACH TONAGEL SAYS…
- On how the game was played…
“It was very physical. Extremely physical. But at the end we made one more play. 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.”
- On Joel Okafor’s career game…
“I didn’t want to take him out. He was so special tonight. He did it on both ends of the floor. He came up big and made those free throws and then that stop at the end. He made that kid take a difficult shot [at the buzzer].”
- On IU East…
“They 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.”
- On 3-pointers…
“If you told me before the game that we would make 2 and they would make 10, I would think we can’t win the game like that. They take away the arc but look at what we shot from the field, 55-percent. We traded some 3 opportunities for layups and it paid off.”
JOEL OKAFOR SAYS…
- “The only think I can feel right now is joy. It is always fun when you get a big win like this on a big stage with your teammates. We did it as a team and for our seniors. This is what this program is all about. The culture of this program is such a pure joy for me today.”
NEXT TIME OUT
- Indiana Wesleyan plays for the national championship on Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET. IWU plays the winner between No. 1 College of Idaho and No. 2 Saint Francis (Ind.). The game will be broadcast on ESPN3.