JUCO basketball: Warriors stake claim for No. 1 ranking

Nov. 20—OTTUMWA — Nine games in just over two weeks has presented an assortment of challenges for the Indian Hills men's basketball team.

So far, the Warriors have passed each test with varying degrees of difficulty. Indian Hills will likely receive a reward for that early-season success on Monday when the new NJCAA Division I men's basketball national rankings come out.

Second-ranked IHCC finished off another busy week by grinding out a 79-60 win over Missouri State-West Plains on Saturday to close out the Reed Overhead Doors Classic. Coming off a 92-61 win over McCook on Friday, Indian Hills improved to 9-0 on the season finishing off a week that began by avenging a national tournament loss to defending national champion Northwest Florida State.

The 108-99 win on Wednesday over the top-ranked Raiders opened the door for the second-ranked Warriors to ascend to the top of the national rankings. Wins over McCook and Missouri State-West Plains clinched the No. 1 national ranking for Indian Hills, the first time IHCC has topped a national poll since finishing a perfect 30-0 regular season in 2018.

"It's cool to be ranked No. 1. It's better than being ranked anything else," Indian Hills head coach Hank Plona said. "At the same time, it's not even Thanksgiving. There are a whole lot of weeks and a whole lot of games still in front of us. We just want to put together the best season we can. When you come to Indian Hills, you expect to be competing for that."

Don McHenry led another balanced scoring attack for Indian Hills with a game-high 15 points on Saturday against the Grizzlies. Kiran Oliver scored 12 points for the Warriors, including a late 3-pointer during an 11-1 run to close out the first half lifting IHCC to a 42-29 halftime lead.

"We started out really slow. It felt like we were just going through the motions in the first half," Oliver said. "We picked it up after coach got after us. We have to bring that same energy that we had later in the game. We're definitely going to work over the next couple of games to get right and come out with that energy over the next couple of games."

Those games will be in Wyoming as Indian Hills will take their perfect record and the country's No. 1 ranking out to the Vista Auto Thanksgiving Classic hosted by Casper College. The Warriors will face the Thunderbirds on Friday night at 8 p.m.

"It's going to be a long trip, but we've been on the road during the preseason and did well already this season on one road trip," Plona said. "These games are huge. We probably have a little bit of a bigger target on our back. I think we always do. Hopefully, we're ready for that and can focus on doing the absolute best that we can do."

Truth Harris led Indian Hills on Friday with 17 points against McCook (2-6) while R.J. Ogom added 14 points for the Warriors on the first night of the Reed Overhead Doors Classic. Davontae Hall scored 11 points on Saturday for IHCC in the 19-point win over the Grizzlies (3-5) while Lado Laku added 10 points to close out play on Saturday.

"All my teammates helped me out. They brought the good energy and they always share the ball," Laku said. "It's been a great opportunity to contribute to the team. We're all getting a better flow and we're all becoming a better team. I think that gives everyone more confidence."

The Warriors have now been ranked No. 1 in the nation 35 times dating back to the program's first appearance atop the polls in 1996. Indian Hills has also been named the No. 1 team in the nation in the latest JUCO Hoop Scoop DI Men's Basketball Poll, the No. 1 team in the NJCAA DI Men's Basketball Media Poll and were tapped as the JucoRecruiting Team of the Week.

Plona was named this week's HoopDirt Coach of the Week for leading the Warriors to the three victories. Plona has now been named the HoopDirt Coach of the Week five times throughout his tenure at Indian Hills.

— Scott Jackson can be reached at sjackson@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.