Third Time's A Charm: Nighthawks Head To Men's Final
Aaron Murphy led NNU with 16 points as the Nighthawks scored 36 points in the paint. Photo by Imogene Eagan.
Aaron Murphy led NNU with 16 points as the Nighthawks scored 36 points in the paint. Photo by Imogene Eagan.

Friday, March 3, 2023

BELLINGHAM, Wash. – In the first two meetings of the season with Montana State Billings, Northwest Nazarene took a pair of losses with a combined margin of defeat of eight points.

The third meeting went in the Nighthawks’ favor on Friday and for the first time it wasn’t even close. No. 6 Northwest Nazarene used a big early second-half run to storm past the No. 2 seeded Yellowjackets 54-38 and into the finals of the GNAC Men’s Basketball Championships at Carver Gym.

Sophomore Aaron Murphy led the way with 16 points and six rebounds as the Nighthawks scored 36 points in the main on the afternoon. Sophomore Ryzin Bergerson added nine points and junior Gabriel Murphy contributed eight points.

Senior guard Carrington Wiggins finished with 13 points to lead Montana State Billings while senior forward Bilal Shabazz had a double-double of 10 points and 12 rebounds. The Yellowjackets finished the game shooting 28.6% from the field and were just 1 of 15 from three-point range.

With the win, the Nighthawks (14-14) will face the winner of this afternoon’s other semifinal game between No. 1 seeded Saint Martin’s and No. 4 seeded Central Washington in the final on Saturday at 5 p.m. The winner of the final receives the conference’s automatic berth to the NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Championship.

Montana State Billings dropped to 20-9 overall and will have to wait until Sunday’s Selection Show to see if they will advance to the West Regional.

The Nighthawks opened the contest with the momentum they had the day before, opening up an 8-3 lead in the first three minutes on a Bergerson three-pointer. The Yellowjackets battled right back, tying the game at 8-8 on a Wiggins’ three-point play at the 13:52 mark as the teams settled in for a close battled the rest of the half.

Neither team led by more than three points until 2:27 left in the half when Jaylen Fox’s running lay-in put Northwest Nazarene head 22-17. Christian Rose and Murphy added lay-in in back-to-back possessions in the final 90 seconds that allowed the Nighthawks to enter halftime with a 26-19 advantage. Murphy scored 10 points in the stanza.

Northwest Nazarene came out of the locker room on fire, scoring the first five points of the second half to build a, 31-19 lead just a minute in. The Nighthawks extended it to a 9-1 run over the first three minutes of the period, culminating on Tru Allen’s lay-in for a 15-point lead, 35-20.

Montana State Billings did their best to keep within striking distance, halving its deficit to 37-30 on a pair of Wiggins free throws at the 11:27 mark. But poor shooting, combined with a total of 21 turnovers in the game, kept the Yellowjackets from making a true charge at challenging for the lead. The Nighthawks built the lead back up over the next 10 minutes, eventually taking a 52-36 lead on Murphy’s lay-in with 1:47 to go.