Bracket busted. The three-time defending national champion Northwest Missouri State Bearcats have been ousted from the 2023 DII men's basketball championship by Southern Nazarene. The Storm won 61-57 in a second-round stunner late Sunday night.
Here are three things to know about the big upset.
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Javon Jackson's freshman breakthrough continues
Jackson had a tremendous DII men's basketball debut in 2023. He began his freshman year as a bench player, but by December was in the starting lineup and has been an absolute force ever since. The GAC freshman of the year fell one short of his career high, leading all scorers in the game with 24 points. He shot an impressive 9-for-13 from the floor, including going 4-for-6 from 3. Jackson was impressive down the stretch as well, hitting a key turnaround jumper to put Southern Nazarene up 59-57 with 14 seconds remaining.
Defense wins championships
Southern Nazarene entered the game with the third-best scoring defense in DII men's basketball, allowing a paltry 57.4 points per game. Of course, the Storm's opponents had the best scoring defense in DII, with the Bearcats allowing just 55.8 points per game. We knew going in this was going to be a battle and big shots would come at a minimum. The defense clamped down in the second half and held Northwest Missouri State to 47.6% shooting, while the offense took care of business, shooting 62.5%. That helped the Storm erase a seven-point halftime deficit, and pull away victorious.
As close as it gets
There wasn't much separation between the two teams, so every little play mattered in the end. Southern Nazarene won some significant battles, including points in the paint (32-26), steals (4-2), and assists (11-7), while the Bearcats dominated time with the lead (27:44), won the turnover battle (7-10), points off turnovers (13-7) and second-chance points (9-6). It was two key free throws from Adokiye Iyaye in the final seconds — his first two points of the game — that sealed the deal and sent Southern Nazarene on to the regional finals.