By Pat Dailey
POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. —
Indiana University Southeast won a school-record 30 games, reached the Final 4 at the NAIA Division II National Tournament for the first time in its program’s history and enjoyed a stretch of 24 wins in 25 games this season.
But while preparing for their trip home from the Ozarks, it’s what the Grenadiers didn’t do that they couldn’t help going back to while reflecting on their breakthrough season.
“This season was a big accomplishment,” guard Keith Mitchell said following IU Southeast’s 69-56 semifinal loss to Cardinal Stritch on Monday “But at the end of the day, we wanted to win a national championship. That’s what we came here to do. We came up short, so we’ll have to go back to IUS and put in more work to get here again and win it all next year.”
“We made our mark,” guard Kegan Clark said. “But this is not where we wanted to finish.”
“Our whole goal was to play for a national championship,” guard Cameron Mitchell said. “Right now, it hurts.”
Coach Wiley Brown wouldn’t have expected anything less from his team, given the desire to win they showed all season.
“They’re competitors,” Brown said. “I told them in the lockerroom I’m proud of them. We brought a totally new team here that we brought last year and we reached the Final 4. I’m so happy for the young men. They can say they made history as our first team to get to the Final 4.”
IUS beat Valley City State (N.D.), Saint Xavier (Ill.) and host College of the Ozarks on its way to the Final 4. The Grenadiers were 4-9 in their previous 10 national tourney trips and only once made it as far as the quarterfinals.
Cameron Mitchell — a transfer from Walsh (Ohio) — emerged as a leader and finished with a 16.7 scoring average. His brother, Kevin, topped the team with an average of 2.2 assists a night, to go along with a 13.4 scoring average. Jake Simpson ranked among the nation’s leaders with a .504 3-point percentage and averaged 15.5 points a game.
IUS had six players average double-figure scoring.
The Mitchell brothers were reunited after Cameron transferred from Walsh. They’re both juniors.
“It was a blessing playing with him again,” Cameron Mitchell said. “I’m looking forward to our last year together next season and to come back here and finish out strong.”
With everyone but senior forward Terrence Billups due to return and if IUS can stay intact, the Grenadiers figure to be a top-five team in next season’s pre-season NAIA D-II Top 25 Poll.
“I go back to when I played and how my coaches always said they’re not worried about the rankings at the beginning of the season, only at the end of the season,” Brown said when asked about lofty expectations.