No. 6 Kirkwood advances to nationals after redemptive victory over Iowa Lakes

Kirkwood wins NJCAA men's basketball regional for first time since 2011

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CEDAR RAPIDS – It’s been nearly a month since a loss to Iowa Lakes left the Kirkwood men’s basketball team searching for an identity.

Outrebounded, outmuscled and outscored on its home floor, the 95-85 defeat sent the Eagles scrambling for defensive answers that could only come in a regional rematch.

Kirkwood forward Cristen Wilson came off the bench and led all scorers with a punishing 19 points on 6-of-8 shooting, while guard Nick Richards collected 17 as the sixth-ranked Eagles posted a redemptive 80-64 victory over Iowa Lakes in a NJCAA Division II men’s basketball regional championship game Saturday at Johnson Hall.

“I told the guys the day after we lost that we’re going to see them again,” Wilson said. “I told them next time it’s going to be a real emotional game and Kirkwood was going to come out on top.”

The victory sends the Eagles (27-4) to the NJCAA Division II national tournament for the first time since 2011, the last of a four-year string of tournament berths. Nationals begin March 15 at Danville, Ill.

Kirkwood won its only men’s basketball national championship in 1998.

“We should be here, we should be getting it done,” a jubilant Kirkwood Coach Bryan Petersen said. “It’s just a matter of getting it done and now we’ve got a chance to go play in Danville.”

Rebounding and defense proved to be the difference on Saturday. Wilson and fellow reserve Josh Meier each grabbed eight rebounds, while Richards tallied a team-high nine to turn what was a double-digit rebound disadvantage in the Feb. 6 meeting to a five-rebound advantage on the defensive end on Saturday.

“It just came down to focus,” Richards said. “Focus and defense. Our offense is going to come, but it’s our defense that uplifts us.”

The first half was largely a stalemate until a dunk attempt by Wilson 2:31 before halftime rattled home, and the ensuing free throw gave Kirkwood a 31-30 lead. Guard Hunter Rhodes – who finished with 15 points and was named regional MVP – added a traditional 3-point play of his own in the closing seconds of the half to send the Eagles to the locker room up, 34-30.

“At halftime we told the guys, ‘This team is tough,’” Petersen said. “’They’re a great team, they do a great job … but we can’t get out-toughed on our home court.’”

A 3-pointer from Richards capped a 15-6 surge midway through the second half that gave Kirkwood its first double-digit lead at 56-44, which eventually ballooned to as large as 19.

Former Cedar Rapids Jefferson prep Jacob Olson scored 10 points with a pair of 3-pointers for Kirkwood.

Tywon Bessler, Jr. scored 16 points for Iowa Lakes (25-8), which failed to get the deficit under nine points the remainder of the game.

“We work on defense every day,” Wilson said. “I feel like we have the best defense in the country.”


IOWA LAKES (64): Bauer 1-4 1-2 4, Wilder 3-5 3-4 9, Jones 7-20 1-2 15, Bressler Jr. 6-14 3-7 16, Woodley 3-7 1-2 8, Moody 0-4 2-2 2, Cox 1-3 0-0 2, Tucek 0-1 0-0 0, Harmon 0-0 0-0 0, Keller 3-4 2-2 8, Runkel 0-1 0-0 0, Totals 24-63 13-21 64.

KIRKWOOD (80): Bartlett 1-2 0-0 3, Rhodes 5-12 5-6 15, Richards 6-10 4-7 17, Olson 3-12 2-2 10, King 1-2 0-0 2, Harp 1-1 0-0 2, Fagan 0-1 0-0 0, Meier 3-5 0-1 6, Wilson 6-8 6-10 19, Triplett 3-5 0-0 6, Totals 29-58 17-26 80.

Halftime — Kirkwood, 34-30. Three-point goals — Iowa Lakes 3-16 (Woodley 1-2, Bressler, Jr. 1-3, Bauer 1-3, Cox 0-1, Tucek 0-1, Runkel 0-1, Jones 0-5), Kirkwood 5-13 (Olson 2-5, Wilson 1-1, Bartlett 1-2, Richards 1-3, Rhodes 0-1, Fagan 0-1). Rebounds — Iowa Lakes 36 (Keller 10), Kirkwood 36 (Richards 9). Assists — Iowa Lakes 5 (Woodley 2, Moody 2), Kirkwood 12 (Rhodes 4). Turnovers — Iowa Lakes 13, Kirkwood 13. Total fouls — Iowa Lakes 22, Kirkwood 21. Fouled out — Wilder, Meier.

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