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Oregon Tech knocks IWU out of tourney

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

Oregon Tech University had the perfect formula Saturday to take out defending NAIA Division II men’s basketball national champion Indiana Wesleyan University.

Red-hot shooting — especially from 3-point range — and superior offensive rebounding led the Owls past the Wildcats 107-93 in the DII national championships quarterfinals in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Then, throw in a 34-point performance from Mitchell Fink and it simply was too much for the ‘Cats to overcome.

Indiana Wesleyan was ranked No. 1 nationally and the tournament’s top seed but had its season come to an end with a 30-6 record. Oregon Tech was a No. 2 tournament seed and ranked eighth in the final Top 25 and move on to Monday’s semifinals at 27-7.

“It was a very physical game, by far the most physical game we were involved in all year and it was their day,” IWU coach Greg Tonagel said. “There were certainly things we could have done better, but it was their day inside and out.” 

Oregon Tech, a 34 percent 3-point shooting team, connected on 13-of-24 from behind the arc for 54 percent. A sizable 44-29 rebounding advantage, including 13-7 on the offensive end, gave the Owls plenty of second chance opportunities.

IWU started well and held a 19-9 advantage but could not sustain it, and the Owls eventually caught the ‘Cats at 35-all late in the first half. Fink, a 6-foot-1 junior guard, caught fire as the half progressed and scored 20 by intermission with the bulk after IWU’s top defender Joel Okafor picked up his second foul.

A Fink 3-pointer with 3:06 before halftime put the Owls on top 40-38 and they would never lose their advantage. IWU’s Evan Maxwell drained a 3-pointer with 11 seconds before intermission to tie it 44-all, only to have Fink connect on a trey at the buzzer for a 47-44 lead.

“He had a day today and looked like a national player of the year,” Tonagel said of Fink, who averaged less than 14 points coming into the game. “He made all kinds of shots and we didn’t do a good job of guarding him.”

Oregon Tech continued to feed off the momentum of Fink’s buzzer beater and quickly extended its advantage to 58-49 on another Fink 3-pointer just four minutes into the second half. And just two minutes later Fink knocked down a step-back ‘3’ that put IWU in a 15-point hole (68-53).

Fink finished with 5-of-10 from 3-point range, 10-of-18 overall, and he also was perfect on nine free throw opportunities. For good measure, he also passed out 11 assists to complete a double-double and helped out on the boards with six rebounds.

IWU is DII’s top-ranked field goal shooting team and made 52 percent overall (32-of-61) but that was a misnomer as the ‘Cats struggled from 3-point range at 29 percent (7-of-24) and the free throw line at 67 percent (22-of-33). Tonagel especially lamented the missed fee throws.

“We could have kept it close and maybe felt a little different about it,” Tonagel said. “But free throw shooting has been our Achilles heal in the latter part of the season.”

After the Owls’ strong second half start the ‘Cats never were closer than 90-81 with 4:38 to play on a Kyle Mangas layup. Almost immediately, Matt Van Tressell answered back with his third 3-pointer of the game and blunt IWU’s momentum.

Okafor led IWU with 25 points on an nine-point average and Mangas finished with 24 points. Grant Smith contributed 18 points and eight assists and Maxwell scored 16 while bothered with back spasms.

Another telling statistic was Oregon Tech’s bench outscoring IWU’s 45-8 and Owls coach Justin Parnell substituted liberally with 12 players.

Maxwell, Okafor and Trevor Waite who scored four points all played their final game for the ‘Cats. Okafor and Waite were part of DII national championship teams in 2017 and ‘18 and Maxwell filled a major role for last year’s champs after transferring from the University of Kansas Jayhawks.

“I love these guys,” Tonagel said of his seniors. “I told them this was one of my most enjoyable years in coaching because of them and the transformation each has made since they came here. Each of them represent a different story and came from different places in life and all leave as transformed men who will have a great impact wherever they go.”

The senior class participated in 123 victories including 56 in Crossroads League play with two league titles in addition to the two national titles.