Two things are virtually certain about tonight’s first semifinal game in the NAIA Men’s Division II Basketball Championships at Sioux City, South Dakota:
1) The game should be an excellent, hotly-contested and hard-fought battle (very likely);
2) The state of Indiana will be represented in Tuesday’s championship contest (guaranteed).
The 4th-rated Indiana Wesleyan University Wildcats (29-7) and No. 1 IU East (34-2) will go at it at 7 p.m., with the winner advancing to the championship game.
It is the Wildcats third consecutive appearance in the semifinals, and fourth in five years.
The second semifinal also features a team from Indiana. Saint Francis (28-8) defeated Cornerstone (Mich.), 90-79, to reach the Fab 4 and a matchup against the College of Idaho (30-6).
It could have been an all-Hoosier semifinals. The College of Idaho defeated Marian, 75-47, in Saturday’s second quarterfinal game.
IU East, the tournament’s top overall seed, already owns a victory over IWU, an 80-79 win on Nov. 14.
Freshman Grant Smith, who helped lead the Connersville Spartans to a 27-2 record in 2016-17 and was a member of the 2017 Indiana High School All-Star team, has been a significant part of the Wildcats’ success.
In three tournament games, the 6-6 forward is averaging 8.3 points, 4.3 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists.
Smith — who earned a spot on the Crossroads League All-Freshman team — had 8 points, 5 assists and 2 rebounds in IWU’s 86-68 win over Morningside (Iowa) Saturday.
Against Antelope Valley (Calif.) in the Wildcats first game of the tourney, Smith had 10 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals.
His numbers in an 85-72 victory over Indiana Southeast – 7 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists and a pair of steals.
Junior center Evan Maxwell averages 24 points and 5.3 rebounds to lead head coach Greg Tonagel’s squad.
Freshman guard Kyle Mangas, the Crossroads League Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year, averages 19 points and 7.6 rebounds.
Former Richmond Red Devil Joel Okafor contributes 7.3 points, 5.3 assists, 5 boards and 1 steal.
Jacob Johnson, a 6-6 senior, averages 11 points and 5.6 caroms, sophomore guard Canaan Coffey averages 7.6 points and Ben Carlson, a 6-6 senior, scores 6.6 points and grabs 5.3 rebounds a game.
IU East also features a former Connersville Spartan — 6-0 guard Charles Peterson. The senior is averaging 5 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists in the Red Wolves three tournament games.
Six-one sophomore Jalen McKay tops IU East in scoring at 14 points a contest with 5-10 sophomore Bishop Smith averaging 13.7.
Luke Huffman and Nate Niehoff, both 6-7 juniors, average 12.3 points each, 6-2 senior Jacob Claypool scores 9.3 points a contest.
According to the IWU Athletics Department, Tonagel said the Wildcats and Red Wolves are totally different teams since they met in November on IU East’s Lingle Court.
“They are No. 1 in the country and haven’t lost since November,” Tonagel said. “They are really quick and they have great guard play. It will be a great battle.”
Tuesday night’s championship game will be broadcast live via ESPN3 and online at WatchESPN.
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