POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. - The nation didn't get a true look at the hot-shooting, high-scoring Red Wolves who put up more wins than any team in school history.
The Indiana University East men's basketball team suffered through their worst shooting day of the season at the worst possible time and fell 84-68 against Warner University (Fla.) in the opening round of the NAIA Division II Men's Basketball National Tournament on March 8 at the College of the Ozarks.
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The Red Wolves scored 68 points. Their previous season low was 73.
They made 31 percent of their field goal attempts. Their previous low was 36 percent.
They made 20 percent of their 3-point field goal attempts. Their previous low was 26 percent.
"We had a bunch of clean looks, but we didn't make them," said IU East coach Mark Hester. "When you are shooting that short, that means you are tight.
"I thought our kids were above big-game jitters, but that's twice this season (cold shooting in a big game) has hit us."
IU East finishes 24-8, an NAIA school record for wins in a season. The Red Wolves were making their second consecutive appearance in the national tournament.
Warner (24-10), the No. 15 seed for the 32-team tournament, will face No. 2 seed Oregon Institute of Technology in the second round March 9.
Adding to the frustration, the Red Wolves couldn't miss in warmups.
"I thought it was one of those days we were going to make everything, because everything was going in during warmups," said senior forward Devon Niehoff (Rushville, Ind./Rushville High School).
"But then in the game we got the looks we wanted and they just weren't falling, and our energy level and body language fell from there."
The Red Wolves jumped ahead 7-2, but their game-long cold spell began during a 19-4 Royal run that ended with Warner ahead 21-11. IU East missed its first eight 3-point attempts as Warner built its early lead.
"It was just one of those days," said senior guard Terry Weathers (East Chicago, Ind./Oakton Community College). "It wasn't their defense. We just weren't shooting the ball well."
IU East would get as close as 26-24 when sophomore guard Matt Trimnell (Seymour, Ind./Seymour High School) made a 3-pointer with 5:51 remaining in the first half.
The Royals quickly rebuilt their advantage to double digits with an 8-0 spurt, capped by a Malcolm Campbell dunk.
IU East managed to whittle the deficit down to 37-30 by halftime, but the Red Wolves found themselves down by 14 when Warner reeled off seven unanswered points early in the second half.
The Royal advantage bounced between nine and 15 over the next 13 minutes as the Red Wolves' shooting never truly warmed up.
Add in Warner's 46-30 rebounding advantage and the Royals had the cards to flush the Red Wolves from the national tournament.
"I said if we didn't win the rebound battle we wouldn't win, and we didn't," Hester said.
IU East got a bit of momentum when a tip-dunk by freshman forward Brandon Muncie (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North High School) and a steal-and-score by senior guard David Sanders (Indianapolis, Ind./Beech Grove High School) reduced Warner's lead to 69-59.
The surge was short-lived. Warner held the Red Wolves scoreless for the next three minutes and pushed its lead as high as 19.
Trimnell led IU East with 21 points. Junior guard Marcus Isaac (Indianapolis, Ind./Purdue University North Central) added 12 and Sanders had 11.
Campbell scored 29 for Warner.
Sanders, Niehoff and Weathers played their final games for IU East.
Sanders and Niehoff graduate as IU East's career leaders in total wins with 84. Weathers leaves as IU East's career leader in winning percentage at .723.
"It's been a great four years and I'm not ashamed at all," Sanders said. "Good luck to everyone next year, but I'm always going to be around and I'm always going to be a Red Wolf."
IU East senior David Sanders (Indianapolis, Ind./Beech Grove High School) was honored as IU East's recipient of the NAIA Champions of Character Award prior to tipoff of the IU East-Warner game.
Each school selects a player to receive the NAIA Champions of Character Award during the NAIA Division II Men's Basketball National Championships.
Sanders received IU East's school Champions of Character award during the 2010-11 school year.
IU East-Warner audio broadcast: