BY PAT DAILEY
POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. —
Indiana University Southeast coach Wiley Brown couldn’t contain his excitement, nearly jumping out of his chair upon learning Grenadiers’ point guard Kevin Mitchell logged 38-plus minutes on Thursday with nary a turnover.
“That’s what I’m talking about,” Brown exclaimed.
IU Southeast dearly needed sure hands from Mitchell, as every possession counted in the Grenadiers’ 77-75 opening-round win over Tabor (Kan.) at the NAIA Division II National Championship.
IU Southeast (26-4) will face unseeded Robert Morris (Ill.) in the second round at about 6:45 tonight. On Thursday, Robert Morris (24-9) upset 14th-seeded St. Francis (Ind.) in its opening-round game, 69-66.
IU Southeast had to rally from a 75-70 deficit versus Tabor over the final minute.
“Coach has been throwing it down my throat, ‘Don’t turn the ball over,’” Mitchell said. “I’ve been striving for that.”
“I’m hard on my point guards,” Brown added. “They have to do every single thing. They quarterback our team and tonight he played his behind off. He knocked down tough shots and free throws. He had the eye of a warrior and was willing to do whatever it takes to win a championship.”
Mitchell also was clutch at the free-throw line, making 3-of-4 attempts from the foul line in the final minute to cap his 17-point night.
Teammate Aishon White broke a 75-all tie by knocking down a pair of free throws with 15 seconds remaining. He wasn’t battling nerves with the game on the line.
“What was on my mind is we’ve got to get this win,” said White, who had a dozen points. “I wasn’t ready to go back home. You can’t be afraid to fail. When I stepped to the line, I thought that we do this every day in practice and this is no different right here.”
The final piece of the puzzle in IU Southeast’s comeback was defensive stops when it needed them down the stretch.
“I’m not going to say we dodged a bullet,” Mitchell said. “We’ve been in games like that. We never gave up. We played has hard as we could until the final buzzer.”
Jeffersonville graduate Kegan Clark had a team-high 18 points on 8-of-9 shooting for the Grenadiers, who led by as many as nine before giving up control to Tabor for much of the second half.
Tabor’s Lance Carter scored 19 points.