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Silcott, Smith move into Elite 8 at National Tourney

Former Connersville High School teammates Garrett Silcott, left, and Grant Smith share a moment together at the 2018-19 NAIA Div. II National Championship tournament in Sioux Falls S.D. on Friday. Silcott plays for IU East (Richmind, Ind.) and Smith plays for defending National Champion Indiana Wesleyan University (Marion, Ind.). Both schools are in the quarterfinals of the national tournament, which continued on Saturday.

By The NEWS-EXAMINER

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Former Connersville Spartan teammates Garrett Silcott and Grant Smith could be on a collision course at the 2018-19 NAIA Div. II National Championship tournament, being played right now in Sioux Falls, S.D.

On Friday, Silcott’s team, IU East, advanced to the Elite 8 in the Liston Bracket with a 77-61 victory over Saint Francis (Ill.). The Red Wolves earned a spot in the national tournament’s Round of 8 for the fourth consecutive season.

In the Naismith bracket, Kyle Mangas drilled a 3-point basket with 2.1 seconds left on the clock to lift Indiana Wesleyan University, Smith’s team, to an 87-86 win over Dakota Wesleyan (S.D.). The Wildcats are returning to the quarterfinals for a sixth straight season.

IU East 77, Saint Francis (Ill.) 61

The Red Wolves used a game-ending 21-5 run to beat the Saints. The win gives IU East a 4-0 record all-time in the Round of 16 at the national tournament.

The teams entered the final eight minutes of the game tied at 52. Aaron Thomas scored on a third-chance putback on the next IU East possession to put the Red Wolves ahead to stay and start the game-ending sweep for IU East.

Thomas recorded his 14th double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds) of the season and second in a row at the national tournament.

“We just did what we were supposed to do (in the last eight minutes),” Thomas said. “Guard the ball screen, not let them shoot the three and keep them out of the middle, and they really stopped scoring. Then we got out in transition, which is something we really wanted to do.”

Jaylen McKay finished with a game-high 25 points. He is averaging 19.2 points in five national tournament games over two seasons in the Sanford Pentagon. He was followed on the East scoring chart by Nate Niehoff with 13 points, Silcott with 12, and Thomas. Silcott also finished with four rebounds, four assists and a blocked shot.

Mitch Kwasigroch led Saint Francis with 13 points.

Indiana Wesleyan 87, Dakota Wesleyan (S.D.) 86

Trailing 86-84 with 7.4 seconds remaining in the game, Mangas brought the ball down the court, and at first looked to drive the lane. Changing his mind, however, the IWU sophomore stepped back, and calmly sank the game-winner with 2.1 seconds left.

DWU had one last chance and Ty Hoglund had a great look from mid-court, but his attempt hit the back iron and bounced out.

“(The Dakota Wesleyan defender) was riding me pretty hard on my side so I knew I could get leverage off him if I do a step back,” Mangas said of his final shot. “I have worked on that shot thousands of times so I was ready for it.”

“Kyle Mangas just hit one of the biggest shots in IWU history,” Associate coach Jeff Clark said afterward. “Our players about lost their mind when Kyle hit that shot. Then they had to regather themselves to play defense. That’s hard to do because it’s emotional when you make a big shot. And from our bench, that half-court shot looked good the whole way.”

“There is something special in our locker room with the number of times we have hit big shots in big moments every time. We don’t think it’s a coincidence as we think there is something deeper happening with this team. It is really fun to be a part of.”

Mangas led five IWU players in double figures with 18 points. Grant Smith was next with 17 points, followed by Joel Okafor (14), Evan Maxwell (12) and Trevor Waite (11).

Smith finished with a double-double, the sophomore adding 10 rebounds to his scoring total. He also finished with a game-high six assists.

IU East and Indiana Wesleyan are the only teams to reach the quarterfinals at the national tournament in each of the past four years. If the two teams were to meet at this year’s tournament, it would be in the national championship game on Tuesday night.

Both athletic departments from IU East and Indiana Wesleyan University contributed to this story.