Northwest Missouri State head coach Ben McCollum on undefeated season and winning national championship
Northwest Missouri State is perfect: 38-0.
The Bearcats’ men’s basketball team completed a wire-to-wire unbeaten campaign on Saturday in Evansville, Ind., beating Point Loma Nazarene (Calif.) 64-58 for the NCAA Division II championship.
Only four other times had a Division II men’s basketball team completed a perfect season and won the national title: Findlay (36-0), in 2008-09; Fort Hays State (34-0), 1995-96; Cal State Bakersfield (33-0), 1992-93; and Evansville (29-0), 1964-65.
And Northwest became the first NCAA men’s team to finish undefeated with a record better than 32-0.
The season-ending triumph matches Ferris State’s record total of 38 victories, but Ferris State lost once en route to last year’s title to finish 38-1.
Northwest, which also won the national championship in 2017, reinvented itself this year under 10th-year head coach Ben McCollum, finding new go-to players on a young roster loaded with Kansas City-area and regional talent.
This championship-game victory was competitive throughout. Point Loma’s Sea Lions (31-5) kept it close but could never catch up in the second half.
“These kids, early in the season we had lost so many starters,” said McCollum, whose has compiled a 100-5 record over the past three seasons. “They felt like they were doubted and they played with a chip on their shoulder all season. To go undefeated starting two freshmen and a sophomore, it’s awesome.”
This year marked Northwest’s 19th tournament appearance, and seventh under McCollum.
Northwest closed the first half on a 7-0 run, capped by a transition three-pointer just before the buzzer for a four-point lead at the break. Senior guard and Chanhassen, Minn., native Joey Witthus had 12 points in the first half and gave the Bearcats a 56-46 lead with 6:43 remaining by banking in a three from the logo just before the shot clock expired.
Witthus finished with 24 points to lead Northwest.
Sophomore forward Ryan Hawkins added nine points with 12 rebounds and four steals, redshirt freshman guard Trevor Hudgins, who hails from Manhattan, Kan., finished with 12 points and six assists, and Diego Bernard from St. Joseph contributed 14 points.
Hudgins, who also scored 27 points in the semifinals, was chosen the most outstanding player of the tournament.
Point Loma’s Daulton Hommes, the Division II national player of the year, led all scorers with 26 points. Preston Beverly added 15 points with nine rebounds.
It was Point Loma’s first title game in just its second NCAA tournament appearance. The Sea Lions were ranked sixth nationally in the final NABC Top 25 poll of the 2018-19 regular season.
Northwest, ranked No. 1, advanced through the tournament by beating Minnesota State 91-62, Southern Nazarene 70-59, Missouri Southern 82-70, Mercyhurst 55-51 and Saint Anselm 76-53.
The sweetest moment came on Saturday, when the Bearcats’ incredible run culminated in another championship trophy and confetti falling from the rafters inside the Ford Center.
“After our first scrimmage ... we were so bad in that one,” McCollom said. “But we turned it around.”
Northwest’s second hoops championship adds to the Maryville school’s overall prestige in Division II basketball and beyond. The Bearcats’ football program leads NCAA Division II with six national titles.
The Bearcats’ previous best basketball season in terms of overall record was in 1929-30, when Henry Iba guided them to a 31-0 record.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.