Sioux Falls, S.D. (Box Score) – No 1 overall seed IU East (Ind.) became the first team to punch its ticket to Monday’s national semifinal with a 76-68 win over No.3 Briar Cliff (Iowa) in the quarterfinals of the NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Championship.
IU East pushes its NAIA-best win streak to 28 games and improve to 33-2 on the year.
Fueled by the talented backcourt duo of Jaylen McKay and Bishop Smith, along with the inside presence of junior big man Nate Niehoff, the Red Wolves advance to play in their second semifinal in three years. IU East was outstanding on the defensive end as well, limiting Briar Cliff, one the top three-point shooting teams in the NAIA, to just 14% (4/29).
Energized by their big-fan base, Briar Cliff got off to a fast start, opening up nine-point lead (24-15) after Erich Erdman’s and-one at the 10-minute mark. IU East scored the next 13 points, however, led by Niehoff and Smith who scored seven and four points during the surge. Another 11-2 run just before the half stretched the Red Wolves lead to eight, 41-33, by intermission.
Erdman opened the second half with a basket to begin a 13-4 Briar Cliff run that put the Chargers back up 46-45, their final lead of the game. A putback by Datrion Harper put IU East up for good on the next possession, and later, leading by three, Smith took over, scoring his team’s next seven points as the Red Wolves opened up a double digit lead with 4:30 left. Briar Cliff made it a five-point game on two occasions over the final minutes but did not get any closer.
McKay led IU East with 19 points, followed by Smith, who scored 12 of his 18 points over the final 20 minutes. Niehoff registered his first double-double of the championship (15pts, 11 reb.), doing most of his scoring in the first half (13).
Erdman, the Chargers outstanding point guard, carried the load offensively with a game-high 29 points, making all 12 of his free throw attempts. Blake Wiltgen added 12 points and Jackson Lamb scored 10 to go with seven boards. Briar Cliff finishes the season with a 26-8 record.
IU East will play either No. 1 Indiana Wesleyan or No. 2 Morningside in Monday’s first semifinal, beginning at 6pm.