Iowa Central moves to 2-0 with win over Iowa Western

Iowa Central moves to 2-0 with win over Iowa Western

Chad Helle took a few extra moments to soak in the thrill of Saturday's 95-91 victory for the Iowa Central men over Iowa Western here Saturday.

After celebrating with his players in the locker room, Helle sat in his office and began the task of breaking down what just happened.

The Tritons rode a 57-point second half to the win, improving to 2-0 on the young season. PJ Ngambi scored 24 points, Javonte Keck and Jaxon Smith added 19 each, and Jayden Stephens scored 12 to lead the way.

"I told the guys that we didn't have a lot of expectations on us," Helle said. "Five teams in our conference are ranked and three are not. Maybe we are like that snake in the weeds. We poked our heads up and maybe people are seeing us and thinking Iowa Central is for real. They have a good team."

Smith, who helped lead Ankeny to a Class 4A state basketball championship this past winter, went a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line and accounted for seven points over the final 90 seconds of the game.

"He's a blue-collar kid that hustles, plays his butt off and makes winning plays," Helle said of his freshman. "He has some of that winning pedigree that comes with winning a state title. Winning is in his blood and he made big plays.

"I thought PJ played with confidence and made some big buckets for us. When I was recruiting him, I told him I am going to ride-or-die with him and he's put those expectations on his shoulders and played great."

A key moment in the game came with just over three minutes remaining in the fourth. Keck and Dante Wheeler from Iowa Western battled over a loose ball. Officials ruled Keck had control and called timeout, giving the Tritons possession.

As Wheeler walked towards the bench, he was issued a technical foul. Smith calmly sank both shots and Keck followed with a three-point play, taking the score 82-81 in favor of the Reivers to 86-82 for Iowa Central. 

"That was big," Helle said. "Getting that loose ball, maybe Javonte doesn't do that as a freshman. But he has learned that each and every play is so important at this level. We got the break and we took advantage."

Dewayne Vass scored 26 points and Elijah Pickens added 16 for Iowa Western. 

Ayris Abdelnassar added nine and Jordan Majeed five points with four assists for the Tritons, who were 22-for-25 from the free throw line and had eight steals. 

Iowa Central returns to action on Wednesday when they travel to Ellsworth.

-By Dana Becker