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IWU moves on to Elite Eight of NAIA tourney

WILDCATS: Indiana Wesleyan’s Kyle Mangas puts up a shot over IU-Southeast defenders in the Wildcats’ 85-72 win in the round of 16 at the NAIA Division II national tournament in Sioux Falls, S.D. Saturday. IWU will meet Morningside (Iowa) at 7 p.m. today trying to make a third-straight appearance in the final four and fourth trip in five years.

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

Another slow start, but the Indiana Wesleyan University men’s basketball team closed with a flourish for the second straight day Friday evening and advanced to the NAIA Division II National Championship Elite Eight.

The No. 4-ranked Wildcats trailed by nine points early before taking command late in the first half and pulled out a 85-72 victory over No. 15 IU-Southeast in second round play at the Sanford Pentagon, Sioux Falls, S.D. Kyle Mangas and Evan Maxwell scored 17 points apiece to pace the ‘Cats.

IWU (28-7) meets fifth-ranked Morningside, Iowa (28-6) at 7 p.m. in the quarterfinals with a berth in Monday’s Final Four at stake. The ‘Cats have made it to the Elite Eight for the ninth time in 11 tourney appearances, and missed out only in 2012 and ‘13. IWU is trying to make a Final Four appearance for the third-straight year.

Early on, IU-Southeast was in control even though its best player Jamie Johnson was sidelined with a back injury suffered in Thursday’s opening round victory. The Grenadiers opened their biggest lead at 23-14 with 11:19 left in the first half on a Demetrius Stanton basket.

“I wish we wouldn’t have known (about Johnson’s injury) beforehand because we let up a little bit,” Indiana Wesleyan coach Greg Tonagel said on the postgame radio interview. “Our whole game plan was about him because he’s good, and he’s that special of a player.”

IWU finally caught and passed the Grenadiers at 30-29 with 6:50 before halftime on a Mangas basket following a turnover. Mangas’ play came in the midst of a 19-0 run and the ‘Cats would never trail again, with IU-Southeast never any closer than five points.

Not only was IU-Southeast confronted with Johnson’s absence, but its second-best player Joe Jackson got into early foul trouble that curtailed his play. Jackson was on the bench during most of IWU’s big scoring run, and he returned late to help keep the Grenadiers within striking distance, trailing 46-39 at halftime.

Yet, the Grenadiers’ defensive style was giving the ‘Cats some trouble, especially from 3-point distance. IWU shoots 40 percent behind the arc but made just 5-of-20 against IU-Southeast, and three came from Canaan Coffey (3-of-8). Coffey’s ‘3’ to open the second half gave the ‘Cats their first double-digit lead 49-39, one they would maintain throughout the final 20 minutes.

“They press and are the No. 2 3-point field goal percentage defensive team in the country, and they force you off the arc,” Tonagel said. “We started playing into their hands and that sped us up, especially early on.

“When we play in the Elite Eight and Final Four it comes down to making those ‘3s’, and we’re going to need that (against Morningside).”

Steadily, the ‘Cats extended the lead until it peaked at 81-60 with 3:04 to play. Tonagel pulled his starters a short time later, and IU-Southeast went on a 12-1 run and pull to within 10 points (82-72) with one minute to go. The starters returned and closed out the game.

Mangas tied IWU’s single-season points record with a free throw in the closing seconds, and the freshman guard currently sits at 756 points. He currently is tied with Lane Mahurin, who set the record last year. In addition, Mangas and Maxwell have combined to score 1,364 points and are four points away from overtaking Mahurin and Bob Peters (2017) as the all-time top scoring tandem in ‘Cats history.

“The amazing thing is they did it early in career, in their first year,” Tonagel said. “Credit to them and their teammates.”

Maxwell, coming off a 33-point performance in the opening round, made 6-of-13 from the field with a 3-point basket and all four free throw attempts. The 6-foot-10 center also pulled down eight rebounds, tying with Mangas and helping IWU to a 44-39 edge on the boards.

IWU had a significant advantage in points off turnovers, 24-13, and outscored IU-Southeast 26-13 at the free throw line.

Seniors Jacob Johnson and Ben Carlson delivered strong performances for the ‘Cats. Johnson bounced back from a sub-par opening game with 15 points, and Carlson came off the bench to add 10 points and seven rebounds.

“Ben played his heart out, and I’m proud of him,” Tonagel said. “He’s a senior and has got a lot of experience in these games.”

Jackson scored 13 points to lead IU-Southeast, which finished 24-8, and Kenny Smith contributed 10 points.

Morningside knocked No. 12 Warner-Pacific, Ore. out of the tournament 84-73 in the following game and will challenge the ‘Cats with its fundamental play, according to Tonagel.

“Morningside is really really good and they’ve got a post player (Tyler Borchers) who’s mean and they surround him with a bunch of guys who play hard and know how to play,” Tonagel said. “They cut as well as anybody in the country.”