Nighthawks Run Away With First-Ever NCAA Tourney Win
Sam Roth keyed the Nighthawks' first-half run, scoring 12 of his 18 points over the first 20 minutes. Photo by Samuel Boender.
Sam Roth keyed the Nighthawks' first-half run, scoring 12 of his 18 points over the first 20 minutes. Photo by Samuel Boender.

Friday, March 12, 2021

GOLDEN, Colo. – The first win is oh so sweet. Getting it against a team that beat you by 30 points earlier in the season makes it even sweeter.

No. 5 seeded Northwest Nazarene bolted out to a 21-point first-half lead and never looked back, earning the program’s first-ever NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Championship win with an 85-73 defeat of No. 4 Point Loma in the West Regional quarterfinals at Lockridge Arena.

The Nighthawks (12-4) received 20 points from senior guard Ezekiel Alley, who connected on 5 of 8 from the field and a perfect 10 of 10 from the free throw line. Senior guard Sam Roth added 18 points, 12 of which came in the decisive first half.

Point Loma (8-3) had knocked off NNU 87-57 back on January 16 and the Nighthawks made sure it would not happen again. Northwest Nazarene shot 51.7 percent from the field (31-60) and was near-perfect from the free throw line, making 13 of 14. The Nighthawks held the Seawolves, the 2019 Division II national runner-up, to just 44.3 percent from the field and forced 13 turnovers.

Brock Mackenzie led Point Loma with 20 points while Kaden Anderson scored 18.

With the win, Northwest Nazarene advances to face No. 1 seeded Colorado Mesa in the regional semifinals on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. (Mountain). In this year’s 48-team bracket, Colorado Mesa received a first-round bye.

While this was Northwest Nazarene’s first NCAA Division II playoff appearance, it was the program’s first since national postseason appearance the 1999 NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball Tournament. The postseason victory is the program’s first since an 84-75 win over Mayville State in the quarterfinals of the 1998 NAIA Division II Tournament.

The Nighthawks wasted little time trying to outrun the Seawolves, bolting out to a 19-9 lead on Roth’s three-pointer at the 14-minute mark of the first half. The lead never dropped below double digits the rest of the game. The Nighthawks led 23-12 when Roth sunk another three-pointer with 8:46 left to open an 11-0 which culminated on a Roth lay-in that put NNU up 34-13 at the 5:46 mark.

Point Loma chipped away at the lead the rest of the half, coming back to within 12 of Anderson’s three-pointer with 2:20 left and Mackenzie hit a lay-up with 44 seconds to go that brought the Seawolves with 40-30 at the break.

The two teams traded baskets over the first four minutes of the second half before sophomore forward Gabriel Murphy hit a lay-in with five minutes gone to build the NNU lead back to 16 points, 50-34. The lead was 14 points when NNU put in a scoring burst that effectively broke the Seawolves with junior guard Brandon Recek connecting on a three-pointer with 9:37 left that gave the Nighthawks their biggest lead of the game at 64-42.

The Seawolves drew back within 12 points with 1:17 to go and proceeded to foul for possessions the rest of the way but the Nighthawks made 10 of 10 from the line down the stretch to seal the victory.