By: Bayley Goodman
The IU South Bend men’s basketball team entered their second consecutive NAIA National Tournament appearance on Friday, March 12 facing the Rio Grande RedStorms in the opening round. Last year’s tournament was canceled due to COVID-19 before the Titans could hit the floor making Friday’s game the first national tournament game in school history for men’s basketball.
Exceptional shooting from the Titans pushed them to a 44-34 advantage at the half after leading by as much as eleven points. Balanced scoring from the Crimson and Cream carried into the second half but the fighting Rio Grande was not ready to see their season come to an end.
The RedStorms fought back from a 12-point deficit to bring the score to an even 57-57 with nine minutes left to play. The two teams traded buckets keeping it as close as three points with under three minutes to play before an 8-0 run by the Titans would give them a comfortable lead in the remaining minute. A made free-throw with eight seconds left lifted the Titans to an 82-71 victory ensuring a chance to play in the second round of the tournament.
Four of the five starters scored in double digits including three players notching 19 points in the victory. The Titans beat Rio Grande in crucial categories that helped give them their first National Tournament win as a program including points in the paint (40-20), second chance points (8-4), and 11 points off turnovers compared to Rio’s seven.
Titans had only a few moments to celebrate before preparing to face the number 1 team in the nation, Indiana Wesleyan, in less than 24 hours on Saturday, March 13.
Friday’s win improved IU South Bend’s record to 7-0 after fighting on the road in over half their home games earning every win with toughness. That same toughness was brought to Saturday’s game as they hit the road once more to face Indiana Wesleyan on their home floor.
Indiana Wesleyan jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead until a three-pointer from Sergio Diaz would put the first points on the board for the Titans after three minutes of play. Senior Dylan Allen would bring IU South Bend within two with 15 minutes left which would be the closest the Titans would get all game. An offense-heavy half by the Wildcats would give them a 53-36 lead going into the break.
The second half was no different. Indiana Wesleyan led by as many as 27 points with less than ten minutes to play shooting just under 50% from the field and 94% from the charity stripe. Both teams subbed with 1:31 left in the game honoring the seniors in the Titan’s last game of the season and the Wildcat’s last game on their home floor. With two Indiana Wesleyan players notching 30 points each, the Wildcats earned their spot in the sweet 16 winnings 96-76 over the Titans.
The Titans had an unbelievable season after defeating all odds. They fought their way through the CCAC tournament coming behind as the last seed to travel a total of 872 miles to capture the Conference title against the number one seed Olivet Nazarene. IU South Bend was also the only CCAC team to make it to the second round of the National Tournament after Holy Cross and Olivet Nazarene lost in the opening round. Multiple players earned individual rankings including
Spencer Pettit and Norell Smith ranking number one and number two in the NAIA Division I in assist/turnover ratio. Senior Dylan Allen ranks number four in free-throw percentage (92.3%) and number 11 in three-point field goal percentage along with Micah Poole as they both shoot 50% from behind the arc.