EVANSVILLE, IN — The 2019 DII men’s basketball season is no more. Northwest Missouri State defeated Point Loma for the national championship 64-58 after three days of intense action for The Ford Center.
The DII Men’s Elite Eight began on Wednesday, March 27 with eight regional winners all with the same championship dreams and aspirations. One by one, the field lessened until we arrived at Championship Saturday.
So, what was this year’s Elite Eight?
It was Nova Southeastern's David Dennis completing a journey like no other. The 2016 MEC freshman of the year followed his coach Jim Crutchfield to Nova Southeastern last year, and in his two years there, he rewrote the culture and record books, leading the Sharks not just to their first Elite Eight, but NCAA DII tournament.
The @NSU_MBasketball David Dennis gets emotional discussing his journey with Coach Crutchfield. From MEC freshman of the year to South Region champ, it’s been a fun and amazing ride to watch. pic.twitter.com/DaS2CD00pE— Wayne Cavadi (@UofDWayne) March 27, 2019
It was the Mercyhurst Lakers coming in as the eight seed and nearly doing what no other team in DII basketball had done yet. Beat Northwest Missouri State. The Lakers fell just short in holding the Bearcats to their lowest output of the season, 55-51. It closed the basketball career of the Lakers Patrick Smith. Don’t weep for him, though. The former Navy submarine shipman is busy preparing for the lead in the spring opera in two weeks.
It was 7,330 electric Southern Indiana fans packing out The Ford Center for their hometown Screaming Eagles. USI legend Alex Stein put on a show in the largest upset of the current Elite Eight format, scoring 31 points to send No. 7 Southern Indiana to the semifinals. Though they came up short, Stein broke the school record for points against Point Loma in front of another huge crowd.
RECORD ATTENDANCE: Alex Stein, Southern Indiana bring the house down in upset fashion
It was Tim Guers sharp shooting on full display. It was West Texas A&M’s freshmen duo showing they aren’t going anywhere after two straight trips to the Elite Eight. It was Queens (NC)’s Mr. Double-Double Shaun Willett going out as he had all season, with an inspiring 27-point, 11-rebound performance.
But in the end, it was Northwest Missouri State looking for DII history against the upstart Point Loma Sea Lions looking to bring back the trophy to the new California powerhouse.
UNDEFEATED-CATS: Northwest Missouri State's perfect run
It was a back and forth battle in the first half. The Bearcats would open up a lead and the Sea Lions would fight back. A big buzzer-beater at the half from Ryan Hawkins made it a two-possession game.
Ryan Hawkins for Northwest Missouri State with the halftime buzzer beater! pic.twitter.com/6nKp4vxpRW— NCAA Division II (@NCAADII) March 30, 2019
And it was Joey Witthus, or “Joey Buckets” as coach Ben McCollum called him, who had been hurt all week in Evansville. He missed almost all of the second half of the quarterfinals and the first half of the semis. He played huge in the second half against Saint Anselm, a half the Bearcats won 45-24, and pulled off what McCullom called a Willis Reed performance in the finals. Witthus scored a team-high 24 points, including going a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line and his desperation 3 as the shot clock expired changing the tide of the game for good.
Joey Witthus for Northwest Missouri State with the THREE! Northwest Missouri State leads Point Loma 56-46 with 6:41 to go. pic.twitter.com/Z3vSIH07Lp— NCAA Division II (@NCAADII) March 30, 2019
It was two freshmen — Diego Bernard and Trevor Hudgins — coming through big time, Bernard providing a defensive and offensive spark beginning in the second half of the semifinals and Hudgins? He just won the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.
“They’re amazing,” Witthus said. “Trevor played amazing this whole tournament, all year really. For them to be both freshmen, the maturity that they show out there is incredible. You don’t see that often. It goes back to practice each day, them willing to learn and grow and want to get better.”
It was two of the best offenses in DII this year in a defensive stranglehold for their lives.
“The game I just watched included two fantastic, underrated defensive teams,” Point Loma head coach Ryan Looney said. “Every guy that stepped on the floor for either team played as hard as they possibly can and did a good job executing their plan defensively. They were just a little bit better than us tonight.”
It was Preston Beverly playing his last game in a Point Loma uniform, joining the program that was a 17-win team and two years later taking them to its first Elite Eight. “Obviously I didn’t want to end,” Beverly said. “It’s a great legacy to leave for the younger guys on the team.”
It was the DII Player of the Year, Daulton Hommes doing Daulton Hommes things. He led all scorers with 26 points, hitting all 10 of his free throws in the championship game. When he picked up yet another honor in earning All-Tournament Team honors, his answer to his fondest memory of the season was a simple two words.
What it wasn’t, at least for coach McCollum, was the last game of the season.
“The culture continues to build on itself. When kids graduate, they should want for success more than what it was when they were here, because they made it better when they were here. I think our program back to when I played takes a lot of pride in that. This wasn’t out last game; we’re going to continue to compete. We’ll have practice tomorrow.”
McCollum let out a little laugh when he talked about the next day’s practice. But who are we kidding? The Bearcats need to get back to work.
They have a 38-game winning streak to protect.