And then there were three.
Entering Saturday, third-ranked Iowa Western was one of just four unbeaten Division I teams left in the NJCAA. The Reivers brought a school-record 20-0 record into the Hellyer Student Life Center and hoped to leave with the outright lead in Region XI.
Indian Hills knows what that feeling is like. After leading from wire-to-wire, IHCC wasn’t about to give up its position as the region’s top team.
No. 10 Indian Hills overcame some early shaky shooting with a 15-2 run late in the first half that put the Warriors ahead for good. IHCC handed Iowa Western its first loss with a 79-64 win that leaves the Warriors alone as the only team left with a perfect Region XI record.
“That’s expected for us,” sophomore Dustin Hogue said. “We expect to be the best team in Iowa. We had to go out and prove we are still that team to beat.”
While Iowa Western was just one of four teams with perfect records, they were not the only team on Saturday defending an unbeaten record. The Warriors were looking to protect a perfect 31-0 home record under second-year head coach Barret Peery.
Frankly, the Warriors were just happy to be playing on the Hellyer Center floor. Playing at home for the first time in 32 days, Indian Hills was greeted by a loud, enthusiastic black-clad crowd.
“We were so excited to get home and get in front of our fans again,” Indian Hills head coach Barret Peery said. “The guys have been on the road for so long going to so many different places. It was just exciting to get back in front of our friends and family.”
IHCC kept the crowd roaring early. Ronald Ross opened play by burying the first shot of the game from 3-point territory and Jameel McKay finished an ally-opp pass from Dustin Hogue with a spectacular slam dunk as the Warriors raced out to a sudden 7-0 lead.
“We’ve been hearing nothing but boos for the past month,” Hogue said. “It felt great to finally come out and be cheered.”
The Warriors’ fast start didn’t last, as Indian Hills suddenly struggled to finish in close. Several low-post misses by IHCC helped Iowa Western rally back with a 16-3 run that helped the Reivers take the advantage on the scoreboard for much of the first half.
“I couldn’t really be disappointed when there was a lid on the basket because we were flying in there and covering up the rim,” Peery said.
After missing several shots off the glass, the Warriors came back by finishing off from in close in style. IHCC had seven slam dunks in their return home, with leading scorer Jameel McKay bringing the Hellyer Center to life with three jams of his own, including a slam while being fouled to bring the Warriors within 25-24.
“It was just another challenge for us as a team,” sophomore Richard Amardi said. “We’ve got so many weapons that, even if we go into a slump, somehow and some way we’re going to fight our way out.”
Jelan Kendrick’s basket late in the first half finally gave the Warriors the lead back at 30-29. Frank Williams then capped the comeback with consecutive 3-pointers in the final minute as IHCC overcame their early shooting struggles to take a 39-31 lead.
“It wasn’t just shots in close. We were also just 2-9 from the free throw line in that first half,” Peery said. “We talked about all those things we struggled with at halftime. We knew we were doing some really good things and I think we really went at the basket well all night.”
IHCC continuously snuffed out any hopes of third-ranked Iowa Western (20-1, 1-1) rallying on the road. The Warriors began to beat the Reivers at their own half-court game, leading to an 8-0 run midway through the second half that put the Warriors up 61-49.
Amardi found McKay for another breakaway slam to cap a 21-point, 12-rebound double-double as IHCC began to put the game away after the Reivers pulled within 66-58. Ross put the game away with a lay-up while being fouled to polish off an 18-point effort as Indian Hills opened a 77-60 lead.
“We feel like we have a bulls-eye on our chest no matter where we go, but we know Iowa Western very well,” Peery said. “There’s definitely a love-hate relationship there.”
Love-hate would definitely describe the 10th-ranked Warriors’ (19-2, 2-0) next opponent. Southeastern returns to the Hellyer Center for the first time since 2011 on Wednesday, as Peery will get his first taste of the “War on 34.”
“That was one thing about last year that was kind of empty,” Peery said. “I got this job and all I heard about was the ‘War on 34,’ and then I didn’t get to be a part of it.
“We don’t make the mistake of saying this is just another team. This is one of the best rivalries in the country.”
No. 10 (DI) INDIAN HILLS 79, No. 3 (DI) IOWA WESTERN 64
IWCC (64) — Devin Brooks 16, Tavian Pomlee 14, Michael Hudson 12, Dinjiyl Walker 12, Ryan Bowie 5, Josiah Coleman 3, Tyrone Haughton 2. Totals 25-71 10-16 64.
3-point goals — 4-27 (Bowie 1-5, Brooks 1-6, Pomlee 1-6, Walker 1-7, Coleman 0-3). Fouled out — Coleman. Rebounds — 41 (Brooks 10, Walker 9, Coleman 6, Bowie 4, Haughton 4, Hudson 4, Pomlee 4). Assists — 19 (Brooks 6, Bowie 3, Pomlee 3, Walker 3, Coleman 2, Haughton, Hudson). Steals — 12 (Walker 5, Bowie 2, Pomelee 2, Brooks, Coleman, Haughton). Blocks — 3 (Haughton, Pomelee, Walker). Total fouls — 23. Turnovers — 17.
IHCC (79) — Jameel McKay 21, Ronald Ross 18, Jelan Kendrick 17, Dustin Hogue 8, Frank Williams 8, Richard Amardi 5, Rawane Ndiaye 2. Totals 31-70 12-25 79.
3-point goals — 5-17 (Williams 2-5, Ross 2-10, Kendrick 1-1, Hogue 0-1). Rebounds — 52 (McKay 12, Kendrick 9, Majok Deng 8, Hogue 8, Amardi 6, Ndiaye 4, R. Ross 4, Gary Williams, Jr.). Assists — 27 (Hogue 7, Ross 6, Kendrick 5, Williams 3, McKay 2, Williams, Jr. 2, Amardi, Deng). Steals — 5 (Kendrick 2, Ross 2, McKay). Blocks — 4 (McKay 2, Amardi, Hogue). Total fouls — 13. Turnovers — 16.
Halftime: Indian Hills 39, Iowa Western 34