MARION – The Indiana Wesleyan men’s basketball team heads into this year’s NAIA Division II National Tournament with a new attitude.
Last year, the Wildcats made the trip to Branson, Mo., and lost to Warner Pacific College 79-76 in overtime in the opening round of the national tournament. This year, Indiana Wesleyan makes its fifth straight appearance in the national tournament with hopes of making a longer run.
Indiana Wesleyan opens the tournament at 9:30 a.m. today against Lourdes (Ohio).
“This is going to be more of a business trip,” said Indiana Wesleyan junior Parker Stouffer, a Southwood High School graduate. “Branson is really a neat place and there are times when you can get caught up in all of the things that they do for you there. We have to remember that our whole focus there is to play basketball. Last year we lost in the first round, and that is certainly not what we wanted out of that tournament.”
Indiana Wesleyan carries a 25-6 record into this year’s tournament. The Wildcats earned one of the Crossroads League’s automatic bids into the tournament after winning the league regular-season title with a 14-4 record.
The Wildcats had the No. 1 seed for the postseason tournament, but lost to No. 8 seed Huntington 81-69 in the opening round on Feb. 20. Since that loss, the Wildcats have had 14 days without a game to prepare for the national tournament.
“It was kind of making the best out of a bad situation,” said senior Aaron Martin, a senior from Rossville High School who will make his fourth trip to the national tournament. “We have had a lot of individual workouts where we have worked on shooting and worked to get better.”
Stouffer said the time off has benefited the Wildcats.
“It has given us a chance to get some individual workouts and it has allowed us to get rested and get our legs back under us,” Stouffer said. “And during this break, our practices have been some of the best all year.”
Martin joins George Jones IV, Taylor Schoen, Patrick Hopkins, Darrian Mikell and Zach Arington as seniors with plenty of national tournament experience.
During their sophomore years, the Wildcats won their first two tournament games before losing to College of the Ozarks 68-64 in the national quarterfinals. Indiana Wesleyan also advanced to the quarterfinal round when the seniors were freshmen, losing to Oklahoma Wesleyan 71-59.
“We have a lot of seniors that have a lot of national tournament experience,” said Martin, who is second on the Wildcats with 47 3-pointers made and is fourth on the team with 7.8 points per game. “We have learned lessons each year we have gone there and we feel like we are ready to go this year.”
The Wildcats come into this year’s tournament with the seventh overall ranking and is seeded second in their bracket.
“We know that we are going to be going up against the best NAIA Division II teams in the nation,” said Stouffer, who averages 3.0 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. “It really is an honor and privilege to go there and see some of the best teams and players in the nation. We are just honored to be a part of that.”
Included in Indiana Wesleyan’s eight-team bracket are No. 2 Cardinal Stritch (Wisc.), No. 10 Dordt (Iowa) and No. 15 Rochester (Mich.).
With a win on Thursday, the Wildcats will play the winner of the Northwest (Wash.) and Dordt game at 11:15 a.m. Friday.
Lourdes is 22-9 on the season.
“We are mainly just worried about ourselves,” Martin said. “We are just focused on doing what we have to do and we are preparing for our first game and going from there if we win.”