Morningside bowed out of the NAIA II Men’s Basketball National Championship with a loss against Indiana Wesleyan in the quarterfinals.
Fourth-ranked Indiana Wesleyan continued its pursuit of a third National Championship in a five-year span when it defeated No. 5 Morningside 86-68 in Saturday’s quarterfinals of the NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Championship in Sioux Falls, S.D.
The Wildcats, who won NAIA II titles in 2014 and 2016 and lost to eventual champion Union in last year’s semifinals, won for their 13th time in their last 14 games to improve their record to 29-7 going into Monday’s semifinals against No. 1-ranked Indiana East.
The setback ended a season’s high nine-game winning streak for the Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) regular season and post-season tournament champion Mustangs, who closed the books on a 28-7 season.
The future is bright for a young Mustang team without a senior and a starting lineup that includes three sophomores and a freshman.
The future is now, meanwhile, for Crossroads League regular season and post-season tournament champion Indiana Wesleyan, which boasts two former NCAA Division I players in its lineup.
Evan Maxwell, a 6-10 junior who averaged 10.0 points and 4.8 rebounds per game as a starter at NCAA I Liberty during the 2015-16 campaign before transferring to NCAA I Kansas, led the Wildcats with 22 points, while point guard Joel Okafor, who played in 28 games, including two starts, at NCAA I Bradley as a freshman, scored eight points and dealt a game-high seven assists.
The Wildcats received a double double of 19 points and a game-high 13 rebounds from Kyle Mangas, who made Crossroads League history this season as the first freshman ever named League Player of the Year, and added double figure scoring from Jacob Johnson with 13 points and Canaan Coffey with 12.
Brody Egger, the elder statesmen in the Mustangs’ starting lineup as a junior, finished his season with a bang by pouring in a game and season’s high 30 points behind a sizzling six-for-nine shooting performance from the 3-point arc. He received double figure scoring support from Tyler Borchers with 12 points and Alex Borchers with 10 tallies. Zach Imig was next with six points.
The 13-rebound haul by Mangas helped Indiana Wesleyan dominate the boards by a 48-26 rebounding margin.
Morningside, one of the best shooting teams in the nation at 51.7 percent entering the contest, finished with only 20 field goals in 54 attempts for a chilly 37.0 percent for its second lowest shooting figure of the campaign.
Despite having first-team All-GPAC performer Tyler Borchers on the floor for less than three minutes of the first half due to early foul trouble, the Mustangs were right there with Indiana Wesleyan through the first 14 minutes of the contest. The Mustangs trailed by only five points (29-24) when Egger hit from 3-point distance with 6:08 left in the half, completing a flurry where he accounted for 12 straight Morningside points.
The Wildcats then took control with a 14-2 scoring run to close out the half to take a 17-point lead (43-26) into the intermission.
The Wildcats also started the game on fire when they made their first three shots of the game with 3-pointers by Maxwell and Coffey and an inside hoop by Mangas to take an early 8-0 lead.
The Mustangs started the game in a three-for-11 shooting slump to find themselves down 15-6 with 12:30 left in the half before Alex Borchers drilled a 3-pointer to get the Mustangs going. Morningside eventually closed within two points (20-18) at the 9:20 mark after Egger struck for back-to-back 3-pointers to start his flurry of 12 straight Morningside points.
Indiana Wesleyan pushed its lead into double figures when Mangas banked in a 3-pointer to make it a 36-26 game with 3:30 left in the half and the lead grew to 43-26 when Maxwell scored from inside 32 seconds before the half ended.
The Wildcats made 18 of 36 shots for 50.0 percent in the first half, while the Mustangs went just 10-for-29 for a chilly 34.5 percent.
Indiana Wesleyan opened the second half with a basket by Mangas and pushed its lead to 20 points on a 3-pointer by Maxwell to go up 52-32 with 16:13 left. The Wildcats made another 3-pointer the next time down the floor on a long range shot by Coffey to go up 55-32 and force a Mustang timeout with 15:47 left.
Morningside fell behind by a game-high 25 points when a basket by Johnson made it 57-32 with 14:57 left. Morningside trailed by 22 points (62-40) after a conventional 3-point play by Johnson with 11:35 left.
The Mustangs weren’t finished, however, as they went on a furious 17-5 scoring run over a six-minute span to climb back within 10 points (67-57) when Egger drilled a 3-pointer with 5:36 left. The Mustangs still trailed by 10 points (69-59) after a pair of free throws by Egger with 4:53 left before the Wildcats reeled off seven straight points to go up 76-59 with 3:28 left.
The Mustangs made one final charge and closed within 12 points (78-66) when Egger made his last 3-pointer with 2:01 left.