College Sports

Northwest Missouri State could make DII history by adding basketball title to football championship

Northwest Missouri State University players celebrated with a trophy after beating University of Central Missouri 69-61in the MIAA Tournament Championship Game Sunday March 5, 2017, at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City.
Northwest Missouri State University players celebrated with a trophy after beating University of Central Missouri 69-61in the MIAA Tournament Championship Game Sunday March 5, 2017, at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City. jledford@kcstar.com

With a victory on Saturday, Northwest Missouri State will pull off a rare double.

The Bearcats meet Fairmont State in the NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship game in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Northwest seeks its first national basketball title, and if that occurs it would come on the heels of the program’s football championship.

The Bearcats would be the first Division II school to pull off the championship double. They’re the first to appear in the finals of both sports. In Division I, Florida won both titles in 2006-07 and Oklahoma State in 1945-46.

Last year, the Cowboys were retroactively named the 1945 national champion by the American Football Coaches Association. Coach Henry Iba’s basketball team won its second straight NCAA title in 1946.

Football is king at Northwest, with six NCAA titles including three of the past four. Basketball has had its share of success, reaching three regional finals before reaching the championship this year.

Basketball and football happily co-exist on campus at Maryville, Mo.

“It helps with recruiting because the name’s out there,” Northwest basketball coach Ben McCollum said in an interview with The Star earlier this season. “You take them to football games, tailgate, show them the crowds.

“As far as setting a bar, I don’t think it changes our expectations. Everybody at our school supports one another.”

The Bearcats, 34-1, are the nation’s top-ranked team but they’re the No. 2 seed in the Elite Eight. Fairmont State, 34-2, is No. 1.

Northwest played a tight game against Lincoln Memorial in Thursday’s semifinal, while Fairmont built a big lead and coasted past Bellarmine.

Bearcats point guard Justin Pitts, who played at Blue Springs South, led Northwest with 30 points in the semifinal. Pitts was named NABC Division II player of the year earlier this week.

Fairmont, bidding to become the first school in any division from West Virginia to win an NCAA basketball title, made 13 of 28 three-pointers in its semifinal victory.

Blair Kerkhoff: 816-234-4730, @BlairKerkhoff

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