BY PAT DAILEY
POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. —
Not a pre-game pep talk from Louisville coach Rick Pitino, or a half-court heave at the halftime buzzer by Cameron Mitchell could bring out the best in Indiana University Southeast on Monday.
The Grenadiers responded with their worst offensive showing of the season, while falling to Cardinal Stritch 69-56 in semifinal-round action at the NAIA Division II National Tournament.
The 56 points are a season-low by a long shot. IUS (30-5) came in having failed to reach 70 points only twice all season, with 63 being its previous low.
But the Grenadiers bemoaned their effort defensively much more than their misses offensively.
“You can’t worry about the offense,” said guard Kegan Clark, a former Jeffersonville High School standout. “If your shot’s not falling, you’ve got to make up for it on defense. We didn’t do that. We didn’t talk and we didn’t switch on screens. We had a bad night.”
Stritch guard Tony Smit had a great night. He entered the game averaging 9.4 points a game, but exploded for 19 of his 21 points in the first half. He was 5-of-5 on his 3-point attempts in the first half.
“We should have been out on him,” IUS guard Cameron Mitchell added. “Defense was our downfall.”
“(Smit) had a great first half and there was a reason for that — we were not on him,” Grenadiers’ coach Wiley Brown said. “He was shooting wide-open shots. We had some issues on defense. We lost sight of the guys that shoot the ball really well.”
Stritch (34-3) wasn’t fazed by Mitchell’s buzzer-beater from mid-court just before halftime. It pulled the Grenadiers to within six points, 42-36, of the lead. All things considered, IUS felt good at intermission about being that close and optimistic the second half would be their time to shine.
But the Wolves wasted no time pushing their lead back to double digits and got up by as much as 19 points.
“We thought we could turn it around at halftime and that the momentum had shifted,” Mitchell said. “But they came out [hot] and we couldn’t hit shots.”
Mitchell scored a team-high 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field along with eight rebounds and three assists. Clark scored 10 of IU Southeast’s first 25 points, but finished with only 13. No one else reached double digits.
“We always talk about having one or two guys step up on any give night, but we needed five tonight because Stritch is a great team,” Brown said. “We had great looks. But it wasn’t our night.”
Stritch was 9-of-21 beyond the arc. Center Darren Moore scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half.
“You’ve got to give credit where it’s due,” Clark said. “They did their thing. But we should have stopped them.”
The Grenadiers, who will lose only one senior, will have all of the offseason to think about their sub-par effort.
“Coach always talks about our energy,” IUS guard Keith Mitchell said. “But our energy wasn’t there. It never picked up.”
Brown had hoped to fire up his team by arranging for his former boss, Pitino, to speak to the Grenadiers over a speaker phone earlier Monday.
“Coach Pitino told them they’re one step away from the opportunity to play for a national championship,” Brown said. “I thought we were going to come out ready to play. But we didn’t do that.”