They fell behind by 17 points in the second half against Indiana Tech back on December 28, but on the back of sophomore Kyle Mangas, the IWU Wildcats pulled off an incredible comeback.
Crossroads League foe Bethel College led the Wildcats by 15 points in the first half of their game back on January 5, and once again, Mangas helped IWU come away victorious.
On Tuesday night against cross county rival Taylor University, the Wildcats fell behind by double digits for the third straight contest, as the Trojans used an incredible 17-0 run midway through the second half to take an 11-point lead.
And for the third straight contest, Mangas was the difference.
The Wildcats’ star guard, after scoring just four points in the first half, came alive in the second, scoring 15 straight points as the Wildcats won their 15th straight contest over the Trojans in a 79-72 triumph at Luckey Arena.
IWU has dominated the rivalry over the last decade. Along with defeating Taylor for the 15th consecutive time, the Wildcats have now won 21 of their last 23 contests over the Trojans. Furthermore, IWU Head Coach Greg Tonagel improved his record to 26-5 over Taylor.
“[I was] pleased with the effort, just not the outcome” Taylor Head Coach Josh Andrews said. “We adapted well, but we didn’t maintain down the stretch and they did. They had another level they could go to with chasing the offensive glass and we had a few possessions offensively that I would like to get back. I thought we were hurried, and that was the difference in the game.”
The Wildcats led the entire first half, knocking down 15 of their 28 looks for an efficient 53 percent. Evan Maxwell got going early, finding his groove in the paint with 14 first half points, while Canaan Coffey shot the ball well throughout the opening 20 minutes, scoring 13 points on three-for-five shooting, including two-for-four from the perimeter.
Despite shooting just two-for-seven from beyond the arc and committing 11 turnovers in the first half, the Trojans did not back down. After trailing between five and eight points for most of the opening stanza, Taylor’s Ryan Robinson connected on a huge triple to cut IWU’s lead to 24-22. However, the Wildcats responded with an 8-0 run, regaining their double-digit advantage before taking an 11 point lead with 2:27 remaining in the stanza.
Mason Degenkolb scored five straight points to make it a two possession game, but Mangas, who only had one field goal in the first half up to that point, scored at the buzzer to make it a 39-31 Wildcat lead at the intermission.
Both teams traded baskets in the opening few minutes of the second half, and with the Wildcats hanging on to a 48-42 advantage, the Trojans’ offense began clicking on all cylinders.
Over the course of the next five-plus minutes, Taylor could not be stopped, scoring 17 straight points to turn that six-point deficit into a 59-48 lead with 10:03 to go in regulation.
Freshman CJ Penha was a major catalyst in Taylor’s run, scoring 11 of the team’s 17 points and making a plethora of strong plays on both ends of the floor.
“He’s got great potential,” Andrews said of Penha. “I liked how he chased the glass, and [he] made some big free throws there. He’s terrific…and he did some good things.”
However, Taylor’s offensive surge would not last. After the Wildcats took a timeout to regroup and refocus, they finished the game with authority, scoring 31 of the final 44 points.
“We really challenged our guys in the huddle that it was ‘do or die’ time,” Tonagel said. “They had everything going their way, and we had gotten on our heels. Our guys came out of the huddle and just…there is something about a unified team. It’s not really quantifiable, but when a team is unified and they stay together, they can switch the momentum. That’s what I saw our guys do.”
Maxwell scored out of the timeout and point guard Joel Okafor followed with two free throws to make it 59-52, and then, Mangas went off.
The Trojans’ defense did their best to keep Mangas at bay, but their efforts, while valiant, proved to be futile. Mangas singlehandedly brought the Wildcats back, as his final field goal, a triple, made it 68-67, before Okafor scored on IWU’s ensuing possession to give them a lead they would not relinquish.
Sophomore James McCloud did a tremendous job of guarding Mangas throughout the game, but left late in the second half with an injury. After he left the floor, Mangas began to find his rhythm, which changed the outcome of the contest.
“It hurt us,” Andrews said of McCloud’s injury. “It hurt us bad. We weren’t able to make the right adjustments in that stretch and it got away from us there.”
Mangas finished the game with 19 points – 15 of which came in the final eight minutes – to go along with six rebounds, five assists, and two blocks.
“Kyle is a special kid,” Tonagel said. “He is one of the rare kids that can just flip a switch like that and do it. He saved us tonight.”
Taylor was held without a field goal over the final 4:52 of the contest, and the Wildcats hit their free throws down the stretch to secure the victory. As a team, the Wildcats knocked down 17 of their 18 shots from the charity stripe for a season best 94.4 percent.
Maxwell also had an efficient night for the Wildcats. He led scorers with 20 points on nine-for-14 shooting from the field, including two-for-four from beyond the arc, while also coming away with six rebounds.
“I thought Evan played hard,” Tonagel said. “I thought Evan made some smart plays tonight. He came out aggressive, and when Evan comes out aggressive, it gives us another punch to go along with Kyle.”
All of IWU’s starters finished in double figures. Along with Mangas and Maxwell, Coffey and Grant Smith both finished with 15, while Okafor collected 10.
“We haven’t had that this year,” Tonagel said of the balanced scoring. “That was one of the things that really pleased me today is that we got more production rather than just two guys getting 30.”
Robinson led the Trojans with 16 points, while Degenkolb came away with 15 points, seven assists, and three steals. Penha ended the night with 14 points and six rebounds.
Though it was not the result that Andrews was looking for, the Trojans have played great basketball in recent weeks, winning their last six games before Tuesday night. Now, he is ready to get back to the drawing board and prepare for the Trojans’ next challenge.
“You’ve got no choice in this league,” Andrews said. “You’ve got to have a short memory. It’s [about] poise, execution, and discipline. Those are just key words for our group, and if we can do it for 40 minutes, we think we can come out on the right side of the scoreboard a lot more times than not.
“We think we can beat anybody, but we can get beaten by anybody, so we’ve just got to quickly find the things in regards to execution that we have to clean up and stay with that for 40 minutes.”