SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Forced to play at their highest level, Indiana Wesleyan, the top seed in the Cramer bracket, finally pulled away from pesky and talented Antelope Valley (Calif.) to post an 87-76 victory in the first round of the NAIA Men’s Division II Basketball National Championship.
Coach Greg Tonagel’s charges got 33 points from talented junior big man Evan Maxwell and 21 more from freshman phenom Kyle Mangas in their march to the second round where they will meet No.4 seed IU Southeast.
The Pioneers, tournament champions of the California Pacific Conference, proved their formidable intentions early on as the two teams swapped leads throughout the first twenty minutes. Ezekiel Armstrong’s driving layup with 0:06 remaining in the first half sent the No.8 seed into intermission with a 35-34 advantage.
Indiana Wesleyan scored 31 points in the first 8:03 of the second half to apparently put the game away. However, the Pioneers, behind Sheldon Blackwell (16 points) and Miles Nolen-Webb (18 points) fought back, cutting a 16-point deficit to five.
Maxwell took over, however, from the interior and combined with Grant Smith (10 points, 6 assists) and Ben Carlson (8 second half points)to right the ship for the Wildcats.
Indiana Wesleyan, regular season and tournament champions of the Crossroads League, take a 27-7 record into Friday’s 4 PM match up against IU Southeast. Antelope Valley finishes at 20-8.