OTTUMWA — Tyon Grant-Foster had never played on his birthday. Malique Jacobs and JD Muila had never cut down a net.
There were a lot of dreams that became reality on Thursday night at the Hellyer Student Life Center. For the Indian Hills men’s basketball team, the biggest dream come true came as the final buzzer sounded on the 2020 North Central District championship game.
The fourth-ranked Warriors are headed back to the NJCAA Division I men’s basketball national tournament for the seventh straight season. Indian Hills clinched the trip to Hutchinson, Kansas in resounding fashion, dominating Dawson Community College 92-65 in the first meeting ever between the Region XI and XIII champions.
“That’s about as well as we’ve played,” Indian Hills head men’s basketball coach Hank Plona said. “We knew we’d get 40 minutes of pressure. They’re a better team than what we made them look like tonight. We tried to take away the advantages they had, which was their depth and their shooting, and utilize the advantages we have which was our size and our athleticism.
“You want to be playing your best basketball at the end of the season. Every game, you want to do your best. The later the season gets, the more practices you have. You want to keep getting better as the year goes on. I’d like to think we’ve done that so far this year. It’s something we’re trying to do and I think we got ourselves in a good place today by game time.”
Grant-Foster celebrated his 20th birthday with his teammates, coaches and fans of the Warriors after cutting the final strand of the net on the home end of the Hellyer Center after scoring a game-high 29 points. The Warriors will take a 30-3 record, including a perfect 21-0 record at home this season, into the national tournament which begins on Monday, Mar. 16.
Indian Hills will likely not play until the following day. Entering the day ranked fourth in the country, IHCC is likely to get one of the eight byes into the second round of the tournament and is hopeful of a very high seed, especially with the postseason losses already suffered by No. 1 Florida SouthWestern and No. 3 Ranger, two teams that will now likely receive one of the tournament’s eight at-large berths.
Unlike last year, the Warriors will not have to rely on being selected at-large for the national tournament. Indian Hills rolled early and often against the Buccaneers matching the up-tempo pace of the Montana school leading to an early lead that swelled to 21 points before the end of the first half and grew as large as 30 in the second half after a slam dunk by Grant-Foster on his final play of his 37th and final game at the Hellyer Center.
Dawson is now 27-7, having lost for the first time in 2020. The Buccaneers saw a 17-game winning streak snapped and will await to hear if the NJCAA selects Dawson for the national tournament as an at-large team.
Indian Hills will find out with the rest of the country what the 24-team single-elimination national tournament field looks like during the NJCAA Selection Show that will be streamed online on Monday at noon.
“We’ll probably do something once again here at the Hellyer Center where fans can come out and watch the show with us,” Plona said. “We’ll make that available to everyone. These guys are excited to play. We probably won’t know exactly who we play, because we’ll likely get that bye, but we’ll find out Monday when we play and get back to work. I think we just need to focus on us and continue to get better throughout the month of March.”