POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. – () No. 5 Indiana Wesleyan had five players score in double figures as they cruised past Southeastern (Fla.) 98-77 in the first semifinal game at the NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Championship.
The 2014 event is being played at the Keeter Gymnasium on the campus of College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Mo.
Jordan Weidner poured in a game-high 29 points and helped the Wildcats jump out to an early 14-8 lead with back-to-back three-pointers and converting an old-fashioned three-point play.
Indiana Wesleyan shot 54% from the field and an even better 64% (9-for-14) from the three-point line. They also held a 45-32 advantage on the glass, pulling down 11 offensive rebounds.
“It’s hard to step away from the battle and really believe that we are in the national championship game,” said Indiana Wesleyan head coach Greg Tonagel. “That is why we have played so well, it hasn’t been about the semifinals or getting to the national championship game, it’s been about playing and living in the moment. Guys are just playing good basketball, they really are. They are playing one possession at a time.”
The lead ranged from 4-9 points in a back-and-forth first half after the initial run by Indiana Wesleyan. The Wildcats held a 43-37 lead at the break.
Indiana Wesleyan opened the second half with a 13-4 run, sparked once again by Weidner who had nine points, as the Wildcats began to pull away. Three consecutive free throws by R.J. Mahurin put IWU up 13 (55-42) but Southeastern guard Dwayne Johnson kept the Fire in it, scoring the next seven points to put his team down six with 14:46 left. They would not get any closer, however.
A three-point play by Mahurin and a three-pointer by Bob Peters ignited a 10-3 Wildcats’ run and another three-pointer by Mahurin gave IWU its then-largest lead (73-58) at the 10-minute mark. They gradually pulled away from there, moving ahead by as much 26 with five minutes left to go as they advanced to the championship game.
Lane Mahurin scored 14 points and pulled down eight rebounds in support of Weidner’s 29. RJ Mahurin also netted 14 despite battling foul problems for most of the game. Nathan Bubash (14) and Zac Vandewater (10) were also in double figures. Vandewater recorded a double-double, pulling down 10 rebounds to go with three assists.
“This team is hot right now. They are playing together and the unity on this team is at an all-time high in the nine years I’ve been here,” said Tonagel. “Guys are cheering for each other. That’s probably been the most fulfilling thing so far is the unity.”
Southeastern was led by Johnson with 28 points, going 11-for-20 from the floor. Timothy Mitchell registered a double-double for the Fire with 10 points and 10 rebounds and both Dana Thomas and Jake Hodges scored 11. Playing in its first ever championship, Southeastern ends the year with a 27-7 record.
Indiana Wesleyan improves to 30-6 on the year and will play either no. 10 Midland (Neb.) or Robert Morris (Ill.) in Tuesday’s national championship game that will be broadcast live on ESPN3.