#6 Indiana Wesleyan held off Trinity Christian 67-61 in the first round of the 2009 NAIA D-II Men's Basketball National Championship. The 18th-annual event is being held at the Keeter Gymnasium on the campus of the College of the Ozarks (Mo.).
Trinity Christian opened the game with a 12-5 run but the Wildcats, behind 57% shooting in the first half, tied the game at 18. Leading by two (23-21), Indiana Wesleyan limited the Trolls to just one basket over the final five minutes to take a 30-23 lead at intermission. Trinity struggled from the field, shooting just 17% from beyond the arc.
Indiana Wesleyan began the second half on an 8-2 run and held its largest lead, 38-25. The Trolls came storming back to tie the game at 49 after a basket by Alex Rusticus with over eight minutes to go. A Will Bruinsma three-pointer put Trinity Christian up by one (59-58) but the Wildcats clamped down defensively and closed the game with a 9-2 run to earn the win. Indiana Wesleyan limited Trinity Christian to just one basket over the final three minutes.
The Wildcats registered three players in double figures, led by Antonio Murrell with 18. Jon Moon and Zach Coverstone added 15 and 12 points, respectively. Murrell and Moon combined for six three-pointers. Indiana Wesleyan shot 55% for the game.
Trinity Christian was led in scoring by Ross Stuursma with 18 points on 8-of-10 from the field. Kurt Gruppen, the Chicagoland Collegiate Conference player-of-the-year, netted 17 points while Alex Rusticus scored eight and pulled down 12 rebounds. After shooting just 37% in the first half, the Trolls made 55% of their field goal attempts in the second half. They shot 46% for the game. Trinity Christian, making its second appearance at the national tournament, ends the season at 23-9.
Indiana Wesleyan improves to 28-6 overall and will play either #11 Bluefield (Va.) or Evergreen State (Wash.) on Friday, March 13 at 4:00 p.m. The 32-team, single elimination tournament concludes March 17, 2009.
The Wildcats trailed 59-58 with under three minutes to play. Senior forward Landon Adler hit bucket down low and was fouled with 2:05 on the clock for a three-point play to give IWU the 61-59 advantage.
Both teams missed shots in their next possession. Trinity Christian looked to tie or take the lead but senior guard Antonio Murrell stripped the ball lose and scored on a fast break give-and-go with Adler to increase the Wildcat lead to two possessions at 63-59 and 50 seconds to go.
The Trolls missed a 3-point attempt and grabbed the offense rebound, but missed again as the Wildcats grabbed the rebound. IWU junior guard Spencer Harris was fouled with 30 seconds to play and iced the game with two free throws.
The 18th Annual NAIA Division II Men's Basketball National Championship will be held March 11-17 in Point Lookout, Missouri. The College of the Ozarks is the host site.
Indiana Wesleyan will enter the national tournament with a 27-6 record and co-champions of the Mid-Central College Conference regular season. IWU lost 74-70 in the MCC Tournament championship to then No. 3-ranked Bethel (Ind.) College.
The 32-team field consists of 21 automatic qualifiers, 10 at-large selections plus a spot for the host school.
The NAIA released its final Top-25 Coaches' Poll in conjunction with the list of national tournament qualifiers, which determined the at-large bids. Indiana Wesleyan held firm in the last poll at No. 6 to earn the first at-large selection.
Indiana Wesleyan will make it second ever appearance at the national tournament and second in three seasons. The Wildcats advanced to the Elite Eight in 2006-07 before falling to eventual national champion MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.) University.
The Wildcats will be joined at the national tournament by two other MCC programs. Bethel (Ind.) College earned the conference's automatic bid by winning the MCC Tournament and Grace (Ind.) College received the ninth of 10 at-large berths.
The NAIA Division II Men's Basketball National Championship will release the official bracket on Thursday.