EVANSVILLE, Ind. — For Northwest men’s basketball, a run at the national title was somewhat expected as the Bearcats have gone a perfect 37-0 en route to the championship game, but for Point Loma, the chance to play for the championship was anything but.
The Sea Lions entered Evansville for the NCAA Division II Elite Eight as the sixth-seeded team after winning the West Region. Led by junior Daulton Hommes, he has embraced the role as the dark horse not only for the team but for himself.
“Coming in … we are definitely the underdog and we like that,” Hommes said. “I’ve been an underdog my whole life as well. We’re just going to take the same mentality we have and take it one game at a time and we have one game left so we’re going to give it all we got.”
The six-foot-eight junior guard took what is to be considered to be the path less traveled to Point Loma. In Hommes final two years of high school, he was forced to sit out due to an ACL injury.
From there the Lynden, Washington, native elected to play 32 miles south of his hometown for Western Washington University where he garnered a unanimous All-Great Northwest Athletic Conference selection while scoring in double figures 28 out of 29 of his games played.
Now, in his first year with the Sea Lions, Hommes was named NABC Division II National Player of the Year during Point Lomas run at the national championship while averaging a team-high 21.7 points per game on 53.6 percent shooting.
Northwest senior swingman Joey Witthus, a transfer in his own right, explained the main focus for the ‘Cats is on the defensive side of the ball.
“We know that they are a very good team,” Witthus said, “They play well together and get after it on defense, so it’s going to be a battle. We just have to make sure we do the things we do best and it all starts with defense for us.”
The Sea Lions’ defense has held opponents to an average of 65.8 points per game while scoring 80.1 points on average. Point Loma will be tasked with Northwest’s No. 3 ranked scoring defense who has only allowed an average of 59 points to opposing teams in the postseason while creating an average scoring margin of 16 points.
“They all can shoot, they all can post up,” coach Ben McCollum said of the Sea Lions’ offense. “They have that versatility piece. … They’re good. They’re disciplined. They’re well coached. It’s going to be a tough matchup.”
Northwest is no stranger to lengthy opponents in this tournament. The Bearcats handed the task of restricting Southern Nazarene's 6-foot-11 center Noah Starkey to 15 points and Missouri Southern’s six-foot-nine forward Cam Martin to — for him — a below average 20 points.
“We’ve got 6’8” guys too,” McCollum said. “I feel like we’ve got really good 6’8” guys so we’ll compete and see what we can do to guard him.”
Defense has been what the doctor ordered for the Bearcats as two of their most productive players on the offensive side of the ball have been nursing nagging injuries. Standing at six-foot-seven MIAA Defensive Player of the Year Ryan Hawkins is one of the five players listed in the 6-foot-7 to 6-foot-8 range.
Tabbed as a 6-foot-7 guard, junior sharpshooter Ryan Welty is eager for his second national championship game in his third year at Northwest.
“I’m excited,” Welty said. “He came out and performed really well last night. Obviously winning the National Player of the Year (means) he’s top notch. So to be able to play against the best DII player in the national championship game, there’s nothing better than that.”
While a tall order stands between the ‘Cats and a perfect, national championship-winning season, Hawkins insured they are prepared for the project.
“I think he should be excited to play us,” Hawkins said. “It’s a big game. We’ll be ready for him.”