RICHMOND, Ind. – Fans in a packed Lingle Court witnessed a Top 25 battle that saw No. 23 Indiana University East Red Wolves square off against No. 22 IU Kokomo for a spot in the NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Championship.
The bleachers divided between fans of the two squads as the host Red Wolves captured their fourth River States Conference championship by defeating IU Kokomo 70-65 on March 3.
In a game that saw five ties, six lead changes and neither team with a lead greater than nine points, both teams played a hard-fought basketball game.
IU East defeated the Cougars for the second time this season. The margins of victory in both games were four and five points, respectively.
Garrett Silcott led the scoring attack for the Red Wolves with a team high 21 points. Jehu Lafeuillee posted a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Rounding out the double digit scoring for IU East were Bishop Smith (15) and Donald Lee (10).
With this victory, Smith and the IU East Class of 2020 became the winningest in IU East history with the 111 wins over the past four years.
IU Kokomo had three players in double figures as Akil McClain had a game-high 22 points. Desean Hampton had a double-double with 15 points and 18 rebounds. Trequan Spivey contributed 14 points.
UPDATING THE RECORDS
With the victory, IU East improves to 23-10 overall. IU Kokomo drops to 26-7.
* Both teams came out with a lot of energy and some championship game jitters in the first few minutes, but it was the Red Wolves’ stifling defense in the first seven minutes of the contest that held IU Kokomo to just 1-11 from the field and helped IU East build an early 10-2 lead.
* Back-to-back 3-pointers from Silcott and Lafeuillee followed by a shot clock violation from the visiting Cougars saw a slim 23-21 IU East lead swell to 29-21 lead late in the first half. The Red Wolves closed the final 3:25 on a 9-4 run with Lafeuillee contributing six of the points to build a 32-25 halftime lead.
* IU Kokomo came out clicking on all cylinders in the second half and was led by Hampton as the main offensive threat in an 8-2 run by the Cougars that drew the game to 34-33. Silcott connected on his fourth 3-pointer of the game that stopped the run and moved the lead back to 37-33.
* McClain was a one-man wrecking crew in the second half when he scored eight straight points in a two-minute span with a pair of 3-pointers and a layup in the paint that gave the visiting Cougars their first lead of the game 60-57 with 6:39 left in the game.
* With the Cougars up 65-64 with 2:30 left to play, the Red Wolves called on Lee, who was playing with four fouls, as he came up with two clutch jump shots in a row that gave IU East a 68-65 lead. IU Kokomo came up empty on three straight 3-point attempts in a bid to tie the game with under a minute to play before IU East corralled the rebound.
* After a pair of missed free throws from IU Kokomo’s Bryce Hudson, IU East’s Smith calmly stepped up to the free throw line himself with nine seconds remaining and made both of his attempts to seal the victory.
* IU East is heading back to the national tournament for the sixth straight season.
* The Red Wolves held IU Kokomo to 39 percent from the floor for the game. They are now 15-0 when holding their opponents to under 43 percent.
* IU East dished out 15 assists on 25 made field goals. IU Kokomo controlled the paint by outscoring the Red Wolves 30-16.
* The Red Wolves are now 12-1 in the all-time series against IU Kokomo.
“The intensity in this game was there from the start. We had to fight tonight, but this is what we have been preparing for this entire season. In the first half, I had it going offensively and the guys were looking for me and putting me in good scoring positions. Thanks to all of my teammates for looking for me tonight.” – Junior forward Jehu Lafeuillee on the victory and his big first half scoring.
“As soon as we found out we were going back to Lingle, we knew we had to win. We couldn’t watch them cut down our nets. Never giving up kept us in this game. There were times that they bounced back and got up three or four. The way we fought and kept going forward really helped us win. We had a slow start at the beginning of the year, but we’ve been playing better as of late.” – Sophomore guard Garrett Silcott on playing at home.
“I’m just proud of my teammates this year. The heart and the fight that we showed all year long through the ups and the downs and staying with it and focused and coming out on top in the biggest game of the season so far.
“First and foremost, I just want to be remembered as a winner. I think that is what this championship will do. It puts a stamp on my career and I can’t wait to go back to South Dakota. It means so much to me to have the label of all-time winningest player here at IU East and to have played with some of the best teams to come through this program.” – Senior guard Bishop Smith on the conference championship and becoming the winningest player in IU East history.
The Red Wolves must wait to see their seed and opponent will be in the opening round of the NAIA National Tournament. The selection show is scheduled for March 4 at 6 p.m.