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Nationally-ranked Cougars begin quest for conference championship

Athletics Feb 23, 2022
Men's basketball players huddle around the coach during a time out
Men’s basketball players huddle around the coach during a time out

KOKOMO, Ind. – The Indiana University Kokomo men’s basketball team begins its quest for a River States Conference (RSC) men’s basketball championship today (Wednesday, February 23), ranked 22nd nationally, and as the number one tournament seed.

The Cougars kick off the tournament at 7 p.m. in the Student Activities and Events Center, taking on the Trailblazers of Ohio Christian University.

Coach Eric Echelbarger said the team’s first goal was to earn the program’s first regular season championship, which it did by going 16-1 in league play. That means they will play conference tournament games in their home gym.

“We’re feeling really good right now,” Echelbarger said. “The guys have been consistently working hard and focused on what we’re trying to accomplish. They’re excited about being able to play at home throughout the conference tournament.”

He credited leadership by experienced players — including fifth-year seniors Desean Hampton, Trequan Spivey, and Allante Harper — for creating a positive culture “that has allowed us to complete at a championship level night after night. 

Everyone was also excited to play after COVID-19 impacted the 2020 to 2021 season.

“We didn’t get to play a season last year, so our guys were very hungry to get back to a full season and compete,” Echelbarger said. “We have good team chemistry that’s allowed us to compete at a championship level night in and night out.”

He encouraged IU Kokomo students, faculty, and staff, as well as community members, to attend games and support the team.

“When we get a good crowd there, it really does help our players,” he said. “It energizes the entire environment, and gives us a good advantage. We have a very fun team to watch. We have very good athletes, playing at a high level. It’s excellent college basketball.”

The Cougars played their quarterfinals opponent, Ohio Christian, January 5 in Kokomo, holding on for a 78-73 victory. The team has won a program-record 14 straight games leading to tonight.

Games are in the Student Activities and Events Center, 2302 S. Washington St., Kokomo. Admission is free to students, faculty, and staff with a Crimson Card. General admission tickets are $7, with children 12 and younger admitted free.

Conference semifinals are Saturday, February 26, with the championship game Tuesday, March 1.

The season championship clinched the Cougar’s bid to the 2021-22 NAIA National Tournament. This will be the third tournament appearance in program history. The tournament will begin on March 11 and 12 at various campus sites. The final site will be Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Missouri, March 17 to 22.

CHAMPIONSHIP CENTRAL Feb. 23, 26 & March 1 at Campus Sites (All Times Eastern)

February 23 – Quarterfinals
Game 1 - No. 4E Ohio Christian at No. 1W IU Kokomo, 7:00 p.m. (Watch Live | Live Stats)
Game 2 - No. 3W Oakland City at No. 2E IU East, 7:30 p.m.
Game 3 - No. 3E Rio Grande at No. 2W Alice Lloyd, 6:00 p.m.
Game 4 - No. 4W IU Southeast at No. 1E WVU Tech, 5:30 p.m.

February 26 – Semifinals
Game 5 – Game 1 Winner vs. Game 2 Winner
Game 6 – Game 3 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner

March 1 – Championship
Game 7 – Game 5 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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