CEDAR RAPIDS — The first half looked familiar for Doug Wilson.
The Kirkwood men’s basketball All-American played just five second-half minutes in Thursday’s regional semifinal victory with foul trouble. Two days later and with his team needing one win to reach the NJCAA Division-II national tournament, two early fouls limited his first-half participation to just nine minutes.
Wilson and Kirkwood could not have scripted a better ending.
“My teammates and coaches just did a really good job to make sure my head was still in the right place,” Wilson said after the second-ranked Eagles defeated No. 7 NIACC, 84-72, in a regional final at Johnson Hall. “Just told me to stay aggressive, don’t let the fouls dictate how I play.”
Wilson scored 21 of his game-high 27 points after halftime, played all 20 minutes in the second frame and did not commit another foul. He scored 10 points during an 18-4 Kirkwood burst that turned a 60-58 Eagles lead into a 78-62 cushion with 3:24 to go.
“He deserves this moment,” sixth-year Kirkwood Coach Bryan Petersen said. “He has been a big-time player for us for two years and he has really put himself in a position this year to be ready for those moments. So for him to take grasp of it in the second half when it is right there for him, it was pretty special and that is why he is the player of the year in our league.”
In addition to the ICCAC Player of the Year honor, Wilson was named the Most Valuable Player of the regional. The announcements triggered his emotions as the Kirkwood faithful roared in applause.
“It was just something that really touched my heart,” Wilson said. “I worked for it. I earned it.”
Kirkwood freshman guard Devonte Thedford — a high school teammate of Wilson’s at Des Moines Hoover — was also named to the all-tournament team. Thedford scored 22 points in the regional final and finished the tournament with a three-game total of 64, more than any other Eagle player.
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“I’ve just got to keep playing,” said Thedford, who also posted a game-high five assists. “Coach trusts me with that I am doing. I have just got to keep playing my game. Keep being aggressive.”
Freshman guard Jamal Stephenson scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half, the second-largest point total for him this season.
“We came in at halftime and we just had to have a chip on our shoulder,” Stephenson said. “Just keep pushing it. Keep pushing. Don’t let up.”
Quentin Hardrict led NIACC (25-5) with 15 points.
Kirkwood (26-4) is in the national tournament for the first time since winning the 2016 national championship. The 16-team tournament runs March 19-23 in Danville, Ill.
“Every group is special every year,” Petersen said. “And this group, I think, is very, very special too. I think we’ve got the pieces to do it. It’s going to be hard because there is going to be some really good teams over there, but I feel like we have a little bit of everything we need to go do something special.”
NJCAA DIVISION-II REGIONAL FINAL
At Johnson Hall
No. 2 Kirkwood 84, No. 7 NIACC 72
NIACC (72): James Harris 5-8 0-1 13, Quentin Hardrict 6-12 1-3 15, Deundra Roberson 4-11 0-0 9, Wendell Matthews 5-12 2-4 12, Trey Sampson 4-5 0-0 10, Orrington Hamilton 1-4 4-4 7, Kyle Lang 2-5 0-0 6, Totals 27-57 7-12 72.
KIRKWOOD (84): Seybian Sims 2-4 0-0 4, Allante Pickens 0-4 0-0 0, Devonte Thedford 7-13 8-9 22, Connor Kasperbauer 3-10 3-10 9, Doug Wilson 11-16 5-6 27, Jamal Stephenson 6-11 2-2 14, Niko Gosnell 1-3 0-0 2, Luke Appel 3-6 0-0 6, Totals 33-67 15-17 84.
Halftime — NIACC, 32-30. Three-point goals – NIACC 11-23 (Harris 3-3, Hardrict 2-3, Sampson 2-3, Lang 2-4, Hamilton 1-3, Roberson 1-7), Kirkwood 3-22 (Kasperbauer 3-10, Gosnell 0-1, Sims 0-1, Thedford 0-1, Appel 0-2, Pickens 0-3, Stephenson 0-4). Rebounds — NIACC 29 (Sampson 10), Kirkwood 36 (Appel 11). Assists — NIACC 11 (Hardrict 3), Kirkwood 10 (Thedford 5). Turnovers — NIACC 16, Kirkwood 8. Total fouls — NIACC 19, Kirkwood 17. Fouled out — Roberson.
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