KOKOMO, Ind. – The Northwestern boys basketball team continues to roll through nearly all-comers – including a clean slate in the Hoosier Conference. After going 4-0 during the regular campaign to claim the West Division title, Class 3A No. 5 Northwestern defeated West Lafayette 49-35 to claim the overall Hoosier Conference title. It is the second conference title in three years for the Tigers.

In a defensive battle, Northwestern kept West Lafayette to under 35-percent shooting. The Red Devils entered the contest averaging more than 50 points per game.

Despite being held to 49 points – which matched its lowest output of the season – the Tigers got off to a quick start, leading 17-9 after the first quarter and 29-16 at the break. The Red Devils cut the lead to 10 with three minutes left in the third quarter (45-35), only to see junior Tayson Parker score a quick four points to put the game out of reach.

Parker finished with 29 points and now has 1,073 career points in just two varsity seasons with the Tigers. Cameron Austin added six points while Logan Bowser and Ben Harris had five points each. Harris had a team-high six rebounds.

For West Lafayette, Yanni Karlaftis had 10 points and Nelson Mbongo added nine.

Northwestern (19-1) has one more regular season test when they host Oak Hill on Feb. 19 at 7:30 p.m.

The Tigers will then set its sights on cutting down another net when it plays in the Frankfort Sectional at the historic Case Arena. Northwestern is 10-0 against 3A squads and 6-0 against the Sectional 20 field. They drew a bye and will play the winner of the Frankfort (2-19) and two-time defending sectional champion West Lafayette (12-9).

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Antoin Clifton joined the Cougars 1,000 Point Club. (SJ photo/Dean Hockney)

KOKOMO, Ind. – With an 87-73 win over IU Southeast, the NAIA Division II No. 24-ranked IU Kokomo Cougars clinched the West Division of the River States Conference for the first time in program history. Clinching the top spot in the division ensures home court for the RSC Tourney with the first round being played at the Cougar Gym on Feb. 20.

“Last night was a huge win for our program,” said first-year Cougars coach Eric Echelbarger. “To be able to win the West Division in the conference and have the No. 1 seed is really big for our team.”

It was a big night for junior Antoin Clifton, who scored 18 points to become the third member of the Cougars 1,000 Point Club. Clifton also had six rebounds and one assist.

Trequan Spivey led the Cougars on offense once again, contributing 27 points in the win after going 10 of 13 from the floor. Coming off the bench with a strong 10 minutes, Desean Hampton scored eight points, had seven rebounds and two assists.

“I thought we got great play from a lot of people,” said Echelbarger before turning his attention to defense. “I think our guys have bought in to that fact we have to guard. We have a lot of weapons, but defensively I am very proud.”

Cougars No. 1-seed in men’s tournament

The 2018-19 River States Conference Men’s Basketball Championship bracket and qualifiers are in place after the end of the regular season. Eight teams will be vying for the conference title from Feb. 20-26 with the winner automatically qualifying for the NAIA Division II National Championship.

It is a very strong RSC bracket with four teams from the NAIA Division II Top 25 Poll and four squads with 20 or more wins on the season. The championship begins with the quarterfinals on Feb. 20 followed by the semifinals on Feb. 23 and the finals on Feb. 26.

WVU Tech, the No. 9 team in the country, is the No. 1 overall seed in the championship. It went all the way down to the final game, but the Golden Bears (26-4, 15-2 RSC) secured the RSC regular-season title and are guaranteed an automatic bid to nationals. The RSC East Division champs begin the playoffs by hosting No. 4 seed Brescia (Ky.) University (15-13, 11-7 RSC) from the RSC West.

Asbury (Ky.) University (20-9, 13-5 RSC) reached the 20-win mark on the final game of the regular season to clinch the No. 2 seed out of the RSC West. The Eagles host University of Rio Grande (Ohio) (12-18, 6-11 RSC), the No. 3 seed from the RSC East.

IU Kokomo, ranked No. 24 in the nation, won the RSC West Division title and the No. 1 seed in its half of the bracket. The Cougars (23-6, 13-5 RSC) host No. 4 seed Point Park (Pa.) University (9-17, 5-12 RSC) from the RSC East on Feb. 20 at 7:30 p.m.

IU East, the No. 13 team in the country and the RSC champion the last two years, is the No. 2 seed from the RSC East. The Red Wolves (23-7, 15-2 RSC) also won 15 RSC games like WVU Tech but lost the tiebreaker. IU East hosts No. 3 seed IU Southeast (19-10, 12-6 RSC) of the RSC West. The Grenadiers are currently “receiving votes” toward the Top 25 poll.

Cougars No. 2-seed in women’s tournament

The 2018-19 River States Conference Women’s Basketball Championship qualifiers and bracket are set after the completion of the regular season. The eight-team championship will be held Feb. 20-26 at campus sites around the conference.

The higher seed hosts each game of the championship, which begins Feb. 20 with the quarterfinals. The semifinals are set for Feb. 23 with the finals on Feb. 26. The championship winner will earn an automatic bid to the NAIA Division II National Championship.

WVU Tech (21-9, 16-1 RSC) is the No. 1 overall seed and has already locked up a national bid as the RSC regular-season champion. The Golden Bears won the RSC East Division, and they open up the postseason at home versus Midway (Ky.) University (16-13, 9-9 RSC), the No. 4 seed from the RSC West.

IU Kokomo (17-10, 13-5 RSC) is the No. 2 seed from the RSC West and begins the championship hosting Point Park (Pa.) University (13-15, 9-8 RSC), the No. 3 seed from the RSC East on Feb. 20 at 5:30 p.m. at the Cougar Gym. The IU Kokomo-Point Park winner will face the WVU Tech-Midway winner in the semifinals.

Alice Lloyd (Ky.) College (17-8, 13-5 RSC) won the RSC West Division for the second year in a row and is the No. 1 seed in its half of the bracket. The Eagles host RSC East No. 4 seed University of Rio Grande (Ohio) (16-14, 6-11 RSC).

IU East (13-16, 11-6 RSC) claimed the No. 2 seed from the RSC East and will host No. 3 Cincinnati Christian University (14-15, 10-8 RSC) from the RSC West. The IU East-CCU winner will play the Alice Lloyd-Rio Grande winner.

Courtesy of IU Kokomo and River States Conference


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Northwestern junior Kendall Bostic sets a screen during as the Lady Tigers won its second consecutive regional championship. (SJ photo/William Gibson)


RENSSELAER, Ind. – For 16 minutes Saturday, Northwestern looked mortal. But for the other 48 minutes of game action at the Rensselaer Central Girls Basketball Regional, the defending Class 3A state champions were a dominant force as the squad captured its second consecutive regional title and a berth in the Final Four.

For top-ranked Northwestern, mortality in tournament play meant a pair of first quarters in which the score was close. In its 67-34 semifinal win over Gary West, the Lady Tigers were tied 14-14 after the first eight minutes before going on a 53-20 run to end the game. In its championship game win over No. 5 Mishawaka Marian, Northwestern led 9-6 after one quarter before pulling away for an easy 18-point win.

“This is exciting,” said Northwestern head coach Kathie Layden of the regional title. “This was a very physical game – it was a good win.”

In the title bout, a rematch of last year’s regional semifinal, Northwestern (25-3) was ready for the physical play of Marian. But an early injury brought a hush over the crowd as Lady Tiger starting forward Sarah Heaver dropped to the floor in front of the Northwestern bench, grabbing her right knee. Trainers tended to her and eventually helped her off the floor and to an adjoining training room.

Junior Kendall Bostic admitted that it shook the team and took a few minutes to get back into the flow after watching a teammate leave the court.

“Yeah, (that injury) took us back for a second,” she said. “We saw her fall and kind of knew by the way she was holding her knee (that it was serious). It just took us a minute to get back into it.”

“Sarah is a tough kid,” added Layden. “When she went down, I knew it was not going to be good. We will hope for the best.”

But once they got back on track, the Lady Tigers took control – much like they have done in every tournament game in the last two seasons. After Marian’s leading scorer Makayla Weaver picked up her third foul early in the second quarter, Klair Merrell grabbed a steal, which resulted in a Bostic score. Then Merrell found Madison Layden on a back-door pass – and before Marian knew what hit them, the 9-6 score was 17-8, and then 22-14 going into halftime, with momentum clearly on the side of the Tigers.

The second half started much like the first ended – Bostic hit two quick buckets, Ellie Boyer scored and Layden had a brilliant wrap-around pass to Bostic to increase the lead to 32-14 with 11 minutes of play left. From there, it was cruise control and a second consecutive trip to the Final Four.

“We were a little tired tonight. But we started to get our heads into the game in the second half,” said Bostic. “We pushed ourselves more.”

Bostic finished with 16 points, including 12 in the decisive middle quarters. Northwestern was led by the 22 points of Layden, who put the game away with eight fourth quarter points. Merrell added five points and Boyer four as only four Lady Tigers found the scoring column.

“It is awesome to be able to win these; very cool,” said Madison Layden, who was the Sports Journal/Coca-Coca Bottling of Kokomo Player of the Game after both games. “I hate to lose; I will do anything it takes to win. Our family is very competitive.”

For Marian (22-4), Mikiya Roby had 11 points to lead the way.

Northwestern advances to its second consecutive Logansport Semi-State, where it will face No. 11 Marion (23-4) at 7 p.m. in the Berry Bowl. The South Semi-State in Jasper features No. 2 Salem (24-3) against No. 7 Benton Central (25-4) at 6:30 p.m.

Northwestern 67, Gary West 34

In the Lady Tigers win over Gary West, the two squads were knotted at 16 early in the second quarter – mostly due to the play of Dash Shaw. The 5-foot-6 junior guard for Gary West cut through the Lady Tigers defense and scored the first 12 points for the Cougars. Something that did not surprise Layden.

“She is a tough player,” said the Northwestern coach. “She is quick, has outside ability, and then gets to the rim. We knew we would have our hands full, but at the same time, we prepared for her. We knew we would have to shut her down, and we did a better job as the game went along. She is a phenomenal player – I am so impressed with her game.”

Northwestern stuck to its game plan, adjusted to the play on the court, and shut down Shaw for most of the second (no points) and third quarters (five points). With Shaw out of the scoring equation, Gary West could not find a replacement. By the end of the game, Shaw had 21 points while the rest of the team managed just 13.

Meanwhile, the offense for Northwestern heated up. Layden, the program’s all-time leading scorer, dropped in 31 points to eclipse the 1,500-point mark. Bostic had a great all-around game with 18 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. Katie Neher added eight points.

“My teammates were getting open, and we will do anything we need to do to win,” said Bostic, who is also a member of the 1,000 Point Club. “My passing was what I needed to do in that game.”

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