Nighthawks Leading Way In Short Men's Basketball Season
Picking up where he left off as a freshman, sophomore guard George Reidy is averaging 13.9 points per game.
Picking up where he left off as a freshman, sophomore guard George Reidy is averaging 13.9 points per game.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

PORTLAND, Ore. – While it is an abbreviated season in the GNAC, it is certainly not short on storylines.

Northwest Nazarene is leading the way for four GNAC programs that have taken the court this season. Entering the week with an 8-1 record, the Nighthawks are lining up for a potential berth in the Division II postseason.

While the Nighthawks are pacing the conference, Seattle Pacific is not far behind. After dropping two games to open the season, the Falcons have knocked the rust off and have now won five straight.

And while Saint Martin’s is still looking to find the win column for the first time this season, the Saints have been competitive in every game they have played and came close to a Division I upset.

After the COVID-19 pandemic stunted seasons and forced the cancellation of the conference-mandated GNAC season, Northwest Nazarene, Saint Martin’s and Seattle Pacific opened their seasons in January. Montana State Billings opened its season last week while Central Washington is on deck to start this weekend.

NIGHTHAWKS SOAR: Pandemic season or not, Northwest Nazarene is on a roll.

The Nighthawks have put together something that has made all of Division II take notice. With an 8-1 overall record, NNU has won six straight games and opened the season with a 75-72 upset of Division I Portland State in the Rose City on Jan. 9. The team’s only loss was an 87-57 defeat at Point Loma on Jan. 15.

Over its nine games, Northwest Nazarene is averaging 78.9 points per game and is outscoring opponents by an average of six points per contest. The numbers have caught the attention of pollsters. The Nighthawks are ranked No. 14 in the Feb. 9 D2SIDA Media Poll and No. 18 in the NABC Division II Coaches Poll.

Guard Ezekiel Alley is carrying much of the scoring load. Moving into a starting role this season, the senior is averaging 18.6 points per game. Sophomore guard George Reidy is averaging 13.9 points per game and sophomore forward James Nelson is averaging 9.6 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.

As a team, the Nighthawks’ .382 three-point percentage ranks 27th among Division II programs.

The Nighthawks will finish the regular season with five games against GNAC opponents. They will face Central Washington on Saturday and host Saint Martin’s next week before traveling to Seattle Pacific on Feb. 26 and 27.

DEFENDING CHAMPS ROLLING: Defending GNAC regular-season champion Seattle Pacific continues to play as if another conference trophy was on the line.

After taking a pair of losses to Division III powerhouse Whitworth to open the season, the Falcons have proceeded to rattle off five straight wins. The ledger includes a two-game sweep at Saint Martin’s on Jan. 20 and 21 and a two-game home sweep over Lewis-Clark State on Jan. 27 and 28. The Warriors are ranked No. 4 in the NAIA national poll.

Seattle Pacific has won using solid offense. The Falcons are averaging 78.9 points per game and the team’s .475 field goal percentage ranks 39th among Division II teams. After finishing second nationally in the category last year, SPU leads Division II this season with a .858 free throw percentage.

The Falcons’ lineup features four players averaging double-digits in scoring. Senior guard Harry Cavell leads the way, averaging 18.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Cavell is shooting 48.2 percent from the field and is ranked 24th in Division II with a .902 free throw percentage (37-41).

Junior guard Divant’e Moffitt is averaging 17.4 points per game. Redshirt freshman Kelton Samore is averaging 11.6 points per game in five contests off the bench while redshirt freshman guard Zach Paulsen is averaging 10.9 points per game.

Seattle Pacific will close the regular season with six games against GNAC opponents. The Falcons host Saint Martin’s this weekend before playing a home-and-home series with Central Washington on Feb. 19 and 20 before hosting Northwest Nazarene on Feb. 26 and 27.

FINDING THEIR WAY: Don’t let Saint Martin’s 0-6 record fool you. The Saints are an improved squad.

Of the six losses, four have been by 10 points or less. The most notable of those losses was a 69-60 defeat at Division I Portland State on Jan. 26. The Saints outshot the Vikings 39.3 percent to 38.6 percent in the game and were within two points of the lead midway through the second half.

Saint Martin’s enters the second half of its season averaging 69.7 points per game behind three double-digit scorers. Sophomore guard Alex Schumacher leads the way, averaging 14.7 points per game. Sophomore guard Tyke Thompson is averaging 13.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game and senior guard Ty Velasquez is averaging 10.3 points per game.

RIGHT UP HIS ALLEY: Northwest Nazarene’s Ezekiel Alley spent the 2019-20 season in a key reserve role that earned him Second Team All-GNAC honors. Moving into a starting role this season, the senior guard has flourished.

Alley has earned the GNAC’s Men’s Basketball Player of the Week award in three of the five weeks that it has been awarded this season. He earned his first award on Jan. 11 after he scored 27 points in the Nighthawks’ upset of Portland State, a game where he scored five key points over the final minute.

Alley repeated as Player of the Week on Jan. 18 after he led NNU in scoring on the team’s three-game road trip to Southern California. His third award came last Monday after a near-perfect performance of 27 points on 8 of 10 from the field, 4 of 4 from three-point range and 7 of 7 from the free throw line in the 93-81 exhibition win over Lewis-Clark State on Feb. 5.

Seattle Pacific players have earned the other two Player of the Week awards this season. Redshirt freshman forward Kelton Samore earned the award on Jan. 25 after he averaged 19 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in a road sweep of Saint Martin’s, including a double-double of 25 points and 10 rebounds in the opener of the series.

Senior guard Harry Cavell was honored on Feb. 1 after he paced the Falcons in the wins over Lewis-Clark State. He averaged 24 points and 11 rebounds in the two games. He became the 34th 1,000-point scorer in program history in the Jan. 27 game, leading SPU to victory with a double-double of 30 points and 11 rebounds.

START ME UP: As teams continue to navigate through COVID-19 protocols, both Montana State Billings and Central Washington are beginning abbreviated 2020-21 seasons this month.

The Yellowjackets opened their four-game schedule last Saturday, collecting a 92-84 exhibition win over Yellowstone Christian. The team shot 46.6 percent from the field and 46.4 percent from three-point range in the win, led by a 29-point, seven-rebound performance by junior forward Brendan Howard.

Montana State Billings collected its second exhibition win on Wednesday, beating down-the-block rival Rocky Mountain 73-56. Howard led four MSUB players in double figures with 24 points. Junior guard Carrington Wiggins added 17 points on 7 of 12 from the field.

The Yellowjackets will host Rocky Mountain for a rematch on Feb. 17 before ending the year with a rematch against Yellowstone Christian on Feb. 27.

Central Washington will open a five-game schedule on Saturday, hosting Northwest Nazarene. The Wildcats will play a home-and-home series with Seattle Pacific on Feb. 19 and 20 and a home-and-home series with Saint Martin’s on Feb. 26 and 27.

POSTSEASON POSSIBILITIES: While there is no GNAC Championships and no conference champion to be declared in 2021, there will still be an NCAA postseason.

The Division II Presidents Council affirmed the decision to move forward with the division’s winter championships on Friday. The national tournament will feature a reduced field of 48 teams with six teams expected to make each regional field. To balance the regional fields for the 2020-21 season only, the RMAC has been grouped with the GNAC and PacWest Conferences in the West Region.

To qualify for the Division II Championships, teams must play a minimum of 11 games against Division II opponents. The first regional rankings, which will ultimately determine the regional tournament field, will be announced on Feb. 17.

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