Ottumwa -- Indian Hills used a big second half to turn around its district championship game with upset-minded North Dakota State College of Science and IHCC's comeback win means the No. 1-rated Warriors will be making their fifth straight appearance in the NJCAA National Championship this month. The Warriors claimed the automatic bid to the national tourney by outscoring NDSCS, 55-37, over the final 20 minutes of Thursday's 88-76 victory at the Hellyer Center.
The visiting Wildcats led by as many as 12 points in a solid first-half performance that had the unbeaten Warriors (33-0) reeling. After Antonio "Booman" Williams scored back-to-back hoops to put IHCC ahead 19-17 NDSCS put on a clinic with their unorthodox offense. They outscored the home team 18-4 to grab a 35-23 advantage. Tomas Woldetensae helped the recovery effort for Indian Hills with a 3-pointer. He later added a pair of foul shots and Shane Gatling drilled a three to get IHCC back to within 39-33 at intermission.
Gatling nailed six 3-point shots, four in the second half, and now has 99 for the season, just three shy of Dwight Hardy's season record.
It was a triple by Williams that ignited an early second-half burst for the Warriors. Rob Montgomery scored inside and a Gatling 3-pointer shaved the deficit to a single point. Gatling led IHCC with 22 points.
Indian Hills attempted to pull away, breaking a 46-all deadlock with a free throw by Montgomery, Gatling's lone 2-point bucket of the night and another three by Gatling to open up a 52-46 lead.
NDSCS (26-7) quickly answered with seven straight points, the last five by Stevin Lipp, whose three gave the Wildcats their last lead at 53-52.
It was Woldetensae who stepped up again for the Warriors, burying a 3-pointer for a 55-53 advantage, a lead the Warriors would never relinquish.
Melvin Newbern did his best to keep the Wildcats in contention, scoring 16 of his game-high 30 points in the final period. His two free throws were the only Science points though in a 10-2 IHCC spurt that built the lead to double-digits.
Jamel Allen helped cement the 21st home court victory of the year with a pair of threes down the stretch and the sophomore also made all three free throws after being fouled on a corner-three attempt.
Woldetensae scored 14 points and Allen and Ivan Aurrocoechea each had 13. Aurrecoechea went over 650 rebounds for his career with a team-leading 12 boards. After being outrebounded by one in the opening half, Indian Hills eked out a 31-26 advantage on the glass. Newbern picked off 11 rebounds to go with his 30 points.
Indian Hills made exactly half of its field goal attempts and half of its 3-point tries. Its 15 triples tied for second-most in a game this season. The Warriors have 277, fourth-best in school history.
Sam Baker, NDSCS's leading scorer and the second-leading 3-point shooter in the nation, battled foul problems and was limited to 12 points and only two threes.
It's the fifth consecutive year and the sixth time in the past seven seasons that IHCC and the Wildcats have met in the district title game. The Warriors have won five of the six matchups.
Although Indian Hills was virtually assured of getting an at-large berth in the national tourney field even with a loss on Thursday, coach Hank Plona had made it clear he wanted to leave nothing to chance. And his team took care of business. The win should go a long way toward earning IHCC the number-one seed for the 24-team national tournament, which begins Mar. 19 in Hutchinson, Kansas. This will be the fifth year in a row at the tourney for the Warriors and the school's 14th trip overall.
INDIAN HILLS 88, NDSCS 76
Ivan Aurrecoechea 5 3-4 13, Jamel Allen 3 5-5 13, Antonio Williams 3 1-2 8, Tomas Woldetensae 4 2-2 14, Shane Gatling 7 2-2 22, Connor Murrell 1 0-0 3, Devontae Lane 2 3-4 8, Corey Manigault 0 2-6 2, Rob Montgomery 1 1-2 3, James Jean-Marie 1 0-0 2 Team 27 19-27 88
Sam Baker 4 2-2 12, Melvin Newbern Jr. 13 4-4 30, Oman Oman 4 0-0 11, Johnnie Turner III 1 0-0 3, Stevin Lipp 1 4-4 7, Marquis Holloman 3 0-0 8, Gare Ewefada 1 0-0 3, Ismail Soumare 1 0-0 2 Team 28 10-10 76
Halftime score: NDSCS 39, Indian Hills 33; Three-point field goals: IHCC 15 (Gatling 6, Woldetensae 4, Allen 2, Williams 1, Murrell 1, Lane 1) NDSCS 9 (Oman 3, Baker 2, Holloman 2, Lipp 1, Ewefada 1)