NCAA Tournament

Northwest Missouri State set for first Elite Eight trip since 2004

Northwest Missouri State players celebrated with a trophy after beating Central Missouri 69-61in the MIAA Tournament championship game March 5 at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City.
Northwest Missouri State players celebrated with a trophy after beating Central Missouri 69-61in the MIAA Tournament championship game March 5 at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City. jledford@kcstar.com

After winning the Central Region and qualifying for the Elite Eight, Northwest Missouri State coach Ben McCollum didn’t know his next opponent.

But it didn’t matter.

“It will be the best team we faced all year,” McCullom said.

That opponent is St. Thomas Aquinas College (N.Y.). Tipoff is 6 p.m. Wednesday, in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The Bearcats (32-1) are ranked first in Division and seeded second in the Elite Eight. Aquinas (28-5) is the seventh seed. The winner advances to Thursday’s semifinals and the championship game is Saturday at 2 p.m.

This is Northwest’s first trip the Elite Eight since 2004 and continues a remarkable season in which the Bearcats won their first 24 games and spent much of the season at No. 1.

The team is led by point guard Justin Pitts, who on Tuesday was named to the NABC All-America team, a day after he was named Basketball Times player of the year. Pitts, a junior, averages 20.5 points per game.

Aquinas guard Justin Reyes, who averages 20.4 points, also was named All-America. This is the Spartans’ first appearance in the Elite Eight.

Blair Kerkhoff: 816-234-4730, @BlairKerkhoff

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