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IWU withstands Taylor's second half rally

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DRIVE: Indiana Wesleyan's Grant Smith drives against Taylor's Jason Hubbard in the second half of the Wildcats' 79-72 win over the Trojans on Tuesday night.
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POST POSITION: Indiana Wesleyan’s Evan Maxwell tries to move in the lane against Taylor’s Jake Heggelan in the Wildcats’ 79-72 win Tuesday in Luckey Arena.

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

 

There are reasons why the Indiana Wesleyan men's basketball team is a defending Crossroads League and national champion, and a lot of those factors that have led to the Wildcats success over the past season-plus came into play Tuesday night against cross-county and league-rival Taylor.

And the result of the game was like most others during that time span.

The Trojans rode a wave of momentum through an early portion of the second half, put together a 17-0 run and had their fans worked into frenzy with a 59-48 lead in a packed Luckey Arena.

But there was no panic from the Wildcats and led by sensational sophomore Kyle Mangas and a defense that held the Trojans without a field goal for the final 4:55 of the game, NAIA Division II No. 3 Indiana Wesleyan put together a rally of its own and won its 15th-straight game over the Taylor, 79-72.

 

"I wish I had answer for that because the momentum switched and its funny how that happens," said IWU coach Greg Tonagel. "There's some mentality involved in that and we really challenged our guys in the huddle because it was do or die time.

"(Taylor) had everything going their way and we had gotten on our heels," he continued. "Our guys came out of the huddle - there's something about a unified team, its not really quantifiable. But when a team is unified and they stay together they can switch the momentum and that's what I saw our guys do."

Indiana Wesleyan put a surge into the excited crowd right from the opening tip. A pair of dunks by sophomore Grant Smith and two short jumpers from senior Evan Maxwell gave the Wildcats an 8-0 lead in less than three minutes, but Taylor weathered that opening storm and settled in for what would be a battle the rest of the contest.

The Wildcats never relinquished their first-half advantage but Taylor would pull as close as 24-22 with just over six minutes to play before IWU scored the next eight points to move in front by 10 then extended the advantage to 37-26 with 2:30 remaining in the half on Maxwell's second three-pointer of the game.

Mason Degenkolb made a pair of free throws and a trey of his own to pull Taylor within 37-31 before Mangas scored just his fourth point of the opening 20 minutes in the final seconds sending IWU to the locker room with a 39-31 lead.

Taylor did a great job of containing Mangas, limiting him to just 2-of-5 on field goal attempts and not allowing him to score another point until the final nine minutes of the game.

Meanwhile, the Trojans scored the first five points of the second half on a Degenkolb basket and Ryan Robinson's 3-pointer to stay squarely in the fight. But the momentum swung in Taylor's favor with the Trojans trailing 48-42 and just under 16 minutes left in the game.

The Trojans forced three-straight turnovers to jumpstart its run then freshman CJ Penha fueled it with 11 of his 14 points off of Taylor's bench during a five-minute stretch that ended with 10:40 to play and the visitors holding a 59-48 lead.

But near the end of the surge, sophomore forward James McCloud, who spent a lot of his night defending Mangas for the Trojans, went down with an apparent ankle injury and wouldn't return.  

 

"That hurt us. That hurt us bad," said Taylor coach Josh Andrews of McCloud's departure. "We weren't able to make the right adjustments in that stretch and it got away from us there."

And much of that had to do with Mangas, a first-team All-American and reigning Crossroads League player of the year.

After a Maxwell field goal and two free throws by Joel Okafor pulled IWU back within 59-52, Mangas strung together 15-straight points before his steal and assist for an Okafor basket put the Wildcats back on top for good at 69-68 with 3:46 to play.

"Kyle is a special kid and he's one of the rare kids that can just flip a switch like that and do it," Tonagel said. "He saved us tonight."

 The Wildcats also locked down defensively, as Degenkolb's field goal with 4:53 remaining was the last of the game for the Trojans.  

"I'm pleased with the effort just not the outcome. We adapted well we just couldn't maintain down the stretch," Andrews said. "They had another level they could go to, chasing the offensive glass. We had a few possessions offensively I'd like to get back where I though we were hurried. That's the difference in the game."

Over the final 10 minutes, Indiana Wesleyan outscored Taylor 31-13 to earn its fifth-straight win and move to 5-2 in the Crossroads League and remain just a game behind league-leader No. 8 Spring Arbor, who needed two overtimes to subdue No. 6 Mt. Vernon Nazarene, 90-85.

All five of IWU's starters scored in double figures, led by Maxwell with 20 and Mangas with 19. Smith and Canaan Coffey each finished with 15 and Okafor added 10. Mangas and Maxwell each had six rebounds.

Robinson led the Trojans with 16, Degenkolb added 15 and Penha had 14 while McCloud and Jake Heggeland scored eight each.

Taylor's bench outscored the Wildcats 22-0.

 

IWU (16-3, 5-2 in CL) travels to Huntington on Saturday.

Taylor (10-9, 4-3) will host Mount Vernon Saturday.