Small College Sports

Luke Appel, Devonte Thedford lift Kirkwood men's basketball to regional semifinal win over DMACC

Eagles will host NIACC for berth in NJCAA D-2 national tournament

CEDAR RAPIDS — With All-American Doug Wilson on the bench with foul trouble, the Kirkwood men’s basketball team needed some second-half offense.

Freshmen Luke Appel and Devonte Thedford answered the call.

Appel and Thedford combined for 31 second-half points as second-ranked Kirkwood defeated DMACC 87-77 in an NJCAA Division-II regional semifinal Thursday night at Johnson Hall.

“In these type of games, maybe sometimes your best player or two is going to have an off night,” sixth-year Kirkwood Bryan Petersen said. “We need guys to step up and that is what happened.”

Kirkwood (26-4) will host seventh-ranked NIACC (25-4) in a regional final on Saturday at 3 p.m. at Johnson Hall. Win there, and the Eagles are in the national tournament for the first time since winning the 2016 national championship.

Kirkwood defeated NIACC by 18 points at home on Jan. 19, then dropped the Feb. 9 rematch in Mason City, 95-81.

“We’ve just got to be really focused in practice tomorrow,” Appel said. “We’ve just got to come with the same urgency and I think we’ll get it done.”

After a 10-point first half, Wilson played just five minutes in a scoreless second. Appel came off the bench and contributed 12 of his 14 points in the second frame as the Eagles used a 26-10 burst to turn a 45-42 lead into a 19-point margin with eight minutes to go.

It was the largest scoring effort in six games for the Marshalltown native.

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“I just know I’ve got to be aggressive when he is out,” said Appel, who also posted seven rebounds and three assists. “He is our main guy, so I was just thinking stay aggressive and shots fell tonight for me. … I haven’t been as aggressive lately. I love finding my teammates. … Tonight with him out, I knew we needed some offense inside.”

Thedford led all scorers with 23 points, 19 of which were scored in the second half. Kirkwood redshirt freshman Connor Kasperbauer added 15 via five 3-point baskets. Every Kirkwood player who entered the game scored at least three points, and six of the eight scored at least eight.

“It means a lot,” said Thedford, who also led Kirkwood with five assists. “If one guy is not playing pretty well, another guy will pick us up. We always tell our guys, ‘Keep shooting.’ We never stop shooting because we believe. We’re thinking you’re on the floor for a reason.”

Wilson and former Iowa City West prep Seybian Sims led the Eagles with nine rebounds apiece.

Tray Buchanan had 21 points for DMACC (22-10), while fellow sophomore guard DeShawn Davidson added 19 and a team-high four assists in defeat.

Men’s basketball

NJCAA DIVISION II REGIONAL SEMIFINAL

At Johnson Hall

No. 2 Kirkwood 87, DMACC 77

DMACC (77): DeShawn Davidson 6-16 7-11 19, Tray Buchanan 7-19 4-5 21, Devonta Price 4-9 0-0 9, Dyllan Robinson 1-2 0-0 2, Zaire Swaby 2-8 0-0 4, Vinny Tarello 3-5 0-0 9, Ray Miller 3-5 1-1 7, Quinton Taylor 2-6 1-2 6, Zach Lester 0-1 0-0 0, Totals 28-71 13-19 77.

KIRKWOOD (87): Seybian Sims 2-3 0-0 5, Allante Pickens 3-8 0-0 9, Devonte Thedford 7-16 8-8 23, Connor Kasperbauer 5-7 0-0 15, Doug Wilson 2-5 6-6 10, Jamal Stephenson 2-4 2-2 8, Niko Gosnell 1-1 1-2 3, Luke Appel 6-9 1-2 14, Totals 28-53 18-20 87.

Halftime — Kirkwood, 40-32. Three-point goals — DMACC 8-27 (Tarello 3-5, Buchanan 3-9, Taylor 1-3, Prince 1-5, Miller 0-1, Robinson 0-1, Davdison 0-3), Kirkwood 13-22 (Kasperbauer 5-6, Pickens 3-7, Stephenson 2-4, Sims 1-1, Thedford 1-1, Appel 1-3). Rebounds — DMACC 28 (Swaby 7), Kirkwood 36 (Sims 9, Wilson 9). Assists — DMACC 11 (Davidson 4), Kirkwood 15 (Thedford 5). Turnovers — DMACC 7, Kirkwood 18. Total fouls — DMACC 17, KirkwooD 15. Fouled out — Miller.

l Comments: douglas.miles@thegazette.com

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