Giant Killers: Nighthawks Take Out Top-Ranked Mavericks
Ezekiel Alley connected on 9 of 18 from the field and 6 of 9 from three-point range to lead Northwest Nazarene to the final. Photo by Kris Parker.
Ezekiel Alley connected on 9 of 18 from the field and 6 of 9 from three-point range to lead Northwest Nazarene to the final. Photo by Kris Parker.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

GOLDEN, Colo. – It was almost a carbon copy of Friday’s performance but this time they took down the top team in the nation.

No. 5 seeded Northwest Nazarene stunned top-seeded and No. 1/2 ranked Colorado Mesa with another big first-half surge on Saturday to take a 74-54 win from the Mavericks in the semifinals of the NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball West Regional semifinal at Lockridge Arena.

The Nighthawks bolted out to as much as a 15-point lead with 4:36 left in the first half and eventually went into halftime with a 40-30 lead after limiting the Mavericks to just 30.3 percent from the field. Colorado Mesa proceeded to cut its deficit to single digits early in the second half but eventually found themselves down by as much as 24 points with five minutes to go.

Senior guard Ezekiel Alley led Northwest Nazarene (13-4) with 30 points on 9 of 18 from the field, 6 of 9 from three-point range and 6 of 6 from the free throw line. Alley had 13 of those points in the opening stanza. Sophomore guard George Reidy added 17 points. The Nighthawks shot 43.9 percent from the field (25-57), 50 percent from outside (11-22) and 13 of 16 from the free throw line.

With the win, Northwest Nazarene earned the right to face No. 2 seed and tournament host Colorado Mines in the regional championship on Monday at 7 p.m. (Mountain). The winner of that game will advance to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight, March 24-27 in Evansville, Indiana.

Colorado Mesa (21-2), ranked No. 1 in the NABC Division II Coaches Poll and No. 2 in the D2SIDA Media Poll, shot 36.2 percent from the field (21-58) and was limited to 3 of 20 from three-point range. Jared Small led the Mavericks with 17 points and Trevor Baskin added 13 points.

In what seemed to be a replay of the game plan against Point Loma in the quarterfinals on Friday, Northwest Nazarene opened up a 12-point lead on Alley’s lay-in six minutes into the game. The Nighthawks led 21-10 midway through the period when Alley connected on a three-pointer to start a 6-1 run over the next four minutes, ending on Reidy’s lay-in with 6:19 to go that provided for NNU’s biggest lead of the half, 26-11.

Colorado Mesa outscored Northwest Nazarene 13-8 over the last four minutes of the half and was within seven points left when Alley nailed his third three-pointer of the half as time expired to give NNU a 34-24 halftime lead.

The Mavericks opened the second half by closing the deficit to eight on Ethan Menzies’ lay-in at the 17:05 mark but the Nighthawks responded with an 8-2 run, ending on another Alley trey, to make the lead 44-30, with 14 minutes left. Colorado Mesa kept within striking distance for the next four minutes before Sam Roth’s jumper started a 19-3 run that spelled defeat for the Mavericks. Brandon Recek closed the run when his three-pointer with 5:29 left gave NNU a 24-point lead, 65-41.