Warriors win game of the year

November 18 – Ottumwa – Does it live up to the hype?

“It was a high quality basketball game,” admitted Hank to Luna.

In what has been dubbed the “Game of the Year” in junior college basketball, second seed Indian Hills battle it out for the top two teams in the NJCAA Division I men’s basketball national poll. The heavyweight showdown was decided in the middle rounds as the round opened 12- 3 second half score of 65 points for the second-ranked Warriors in a 108-99 win over top-ranked defending national champion, Northwest Florida State Wednesday night at Hellyer Student Life Center.

“Both of us struggled to stop what the other team wanted to do, but there were a lot of hard shots and a lot of tough plays,” Blona said after his 203rd win as the IHCC men’s basketball coach. “There were tough shots and intense plays by both teams. I think you’ve definitely seen two of the best basketball teams in the country.”

Wednesday’s contest came exactly 37 years before the day the Indian Hills basketball game was played at the Hellyer Student Life Center. The Warriors reached the century mark on the scoreboard that night as well, and did so with far less drama in a 101-55 win over Central Christian College in Moberly early in the 1985-86 season.

At the time, Louisville and Houston were less than two years away from playing one of the most high-profile college basketball games ever in the 1983 Final Four. Houston’s ‘Phi-Slamma Jamma’ pulled off Louisville’s ‘Doctors of Dunk’ to pick up a win 94-81 in a nearly 20-seat game with both teams flying up and down the field.

Indian Hills and Northwest Florida State defied the same kind of energy on Wednesday as the two teams traded eight dunks, 10 ties and nine key changes while putting more than 200 points on the board. The Raiders managed to lead most of the half, but could muster no more than four points in the first 20 minutes as IHCC went on to respond to six out of 15 3-point range attempts in the first half including go-ahead treys by Eddiean Tirado and Enoch Kalambay.

“We played the whole game,” Calambay said. “They have good coaches and good players but the same applies to us.” “It meant a lot to Adian and me after losing to them (67-66) in the National Championship last year. There’s a good chance we’ll see them again in four months at Hatch.”

The Indian Hills Riders were able to lead against the Raiders, 43-42, at the half on a free throw by Leroy O’Diahy with 25.8 seconds left in the first half. Fans held their breath anticipating a battle going up and down all the way to the wire in a series that featured three straight games decided by a single point.

Calambay and Tirado, two sophomores who had last suffered a heartbreaking one-point loss against the Raiders last March, did much to ensure that Wednesday’s game would not be decided by that narrow margin. The Warrior’s sophomore teammates together scored IHCC’s first 11 points in the second half with Tirado continuing to heat up as part of a 21-point effort, sinking a pair of 3-pointers to help the Warriors push their lead to 56-45 five minutes into the first half.

“I locked up,” Tirado said. “I came with the mentality that if my mates got the ball and I was wide open, I would take every single one of them and make it happen.”

The Raiders fell back within three, but a series of buckets from Don McHenry sparked the Warriors back into a double-digit lead. McHenry put up 25 points for the Warriors, including 16 in the second half.

“It was as good as we played during that round to take the lead,” said Blona. “We put up a little bit better guarding. We took the pressure off the whole field in the second half and I think we did a better job staying up front. They scored a lot in the transition against us, which hasn’t happened a lot for us so far this season. Suddenly we forced them to score.” In their half of the field. They couldn’t do that and we managed to get some runs.”

On the other end, Tirado continued to demonstrate practically perfect touch from the ground as he sank his first five field goal attempts, including his first four from the three-point zone. Tirado finished shooting 5-6 from the field, missing only one on five 3-pointers, and hitting 7-8 free throw attempts to complete a 21-point night for the IHCC sophomore.

“If I see an open space, I’ll knock it down. That’s why I’m here,” said Tirado. “We have to keep doing what we’re doing. We still have a lot of things to improve, but we’ll get there. We work hard every day. We treat every day like it’s our last. This was a game we had to get by.” .

Calambay scored a Warriors-high 14 points and eight rebounds. Freshman runner Kieran Oliver sparked the Warriors early with 12 points in the first half.

“We had to get all the rebounds and we had to keep the defense tight,” Calambay said. “We’re not done yet. We’re getting closer and closer every day. We make sure everyone has the same positive energy.”

Paired with a bunch of defensive stops, the Warrior offense exploded midway through the half and built its lead to as many as 21 after McHenry’s three at the 6:03 mark to put Indian Hills ahead 86-65. The Raiders fought back and eventually brought the game into single digits, but the Warriors went 7-8 from the free throw line down the stretch to earn a victory over the highest-ranked team in the nation.

“We came here to play better,” Northwest Florida State coach Steve DiMeo said. “Indian Hills is faster, faster and stronger than it was a year ago. And now we see what we need to do to be able to beat the best. We have to take our game to another level. We’ve got a good dose of what we need to improve at.”

Kassan Pryor led Northwest Florida State on Wednesday with 30 points before joining Raider teammates Colin Warren and Andre Harris on the bench with five errors. Takai Simpkins added 19 points off the bench for the Raiders, who are down 75-61 Thursday at Southeastern and are down to 6-2 this season.

Indian Hillsmen improved to 7-0 with the win and 2-3 all-time against Northwest Florida State. The Warriors also improved to 1-1 all time in #1-2 contests playing at the Hellyer Center after dropping a 62-61 decision to Chipola in a 2008 battle between the two top ranked teams in the NJCAA polls at the time.

Scott Jackson can be reached at sjackson@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter @CourierScott.

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