NAMPA — There was no quit in the Northwest Nazarene men’s basketball team. Not on Senior Night. Not with this much on the line.
The Nighthawks overcame a 16-point deficit in the second half and then came back from four down in the overtime period to take a 89-87 victory against Western Oregon on Saturday and clinch a spot in the postseason.
“It was really special, I got love for my seniors, I wanted to get the ‘W’ for them,” said junior Ezekiel Alley, who had 15 of his game-high 25 points. “We just came out, played hard and tried to get the win.”
With the win, Northwest Nazarene (15-8, 12-6) clinched a spot in the GNAC Tournament for the second season in a row, and remained tied with Western Washington, which upset league-leader Seattle Pacific on Saturday, for second place in the league standings with two games to go. If the Nighthawks can get the No. 2 seed, they will have a bye into the conference semifinals.
“This is my fifth year here, and my first three years we didn’t get into the playoffs,” said Northwest Nazarene coach Paul Rush. “Since NNU has been Division II, it’s only been to the playoffs maybe three or four times. The program we’re trying to build here, we want to be in the national tournament every year, let alone the GNAC tournament. So to be able to get this our second year in a row is a big deal, just because of the standard we’re trying to build.”
The game marked the final home game for the Nighthawks five seniors, Adalberto Diaz, Jayden Bezzant, Olamilekan Adetunji, Felix White and Zac Furgerson. Diaz finished with 22 points, while Bezzant and Adetunji both scored nine in a senior night game to remember.
“We’re a really, really reliant group,” said Diaz. “We’ve been through a lot of stuff, through a lot of adversity. But our coach says ‘love the guy next to you.’ And whenever we’re on the court, by loving the guy next to you, we’re getting the stop, helping them on stunts. Anything we have to do, we just play for each other. This is a great atmosphere and this is a great team.”
For the Nighthawks, it appeared that a chance to clinch a playoff spot would have to wait until the final week of the regular season, rather than the final game at Johnson Sports Center. Western Oregon (17-7, 11-7) took a 66-50 lead on a 15-0 run midway through the second half thanks to some cold shooting by the Nighthawks. But with their backs against the wall, Northwest Nazarene answered the call and roared back with a 19-2 run, taking a 69-68 lead on an Alley layup.
“We just had to stay with our course, not get rattled and stay poised,” said Alley. “We knew we could come back and we did it. We just had to play defense and lock up.”
Alley played a crucial role in the comeback, and at one point, Rush admits, their play call was simply to find a way to get it into his hands. That was certainly the case in the closing seconds of regulation, when Alley took it to the basket, but missed a shot at the buzzer.
“He’s done that for us all season,” Rush said about Alley. “The shots he’s hit, his ability to play in isolation, off ball screens, he’s just so impressive, so refined that way. And he was cooking tonight. He had it going, and our game plan was ‘give Zeke the ball, and get out of the way.”
With the Nighthawks trailing 87-83 in the overtime period, one again Alley took over, scoring four of the final six points of the game. With 1:19 left he hit a jump shot on which he was fouled, and hit the ensuing free throw to cut the Wolves’ leaf to 87-86.
After a Bezzant steal, George Reidy hit the go-ahead layup with 35 seconds left. After a defensive stop, Alley hit one of two free throws with 4.4 seconds on the clock. A last second 3-point shot attempt by Western Oregon hit the top of the backboard, nowhere near the basket, allowing the Nighthawk celebration to begin.
NNU WOMEN ROLL TO SENOIR NIGHT VICTORY
Marina Valles made her last game at Johnson Sports Center count.
The Northwest Nazarene senior was all over the court for the Nighthawks in their 82-62 win against Western Oregon. Valles finished with 16 points to go with five rebounds and eight steals as the Nighthawks honored its three seniors, Avery Albrecht, Zoe Wessels and Valles, in their final home game.
“There’s so many emotions, it’s sad playing our last game here,” said Valles. “But we still have a long way to go, we’re going to Seattle next week, then the GNAC Tournament. So it’s a mix of feeling between being sad and excited for the rest of the season.
With the win the Nighthawks (20-6, 15-3) moved closer to clinching the No. 2 seed at the GNAC Tournament and earning a bye into the semifinals. Northwest Nazarene was set to clinch the second spot with a Western Washington loss to conference leader Alaska Anchorage in a game that ended after press time on Saturday.
Redshirt freshman McKenna Emerson finished with 14 points, while true freshman Emma Clark scored 12 points, matching a season-high that she set in a 74-52 win against Concordia on Thursday.
Western Oregon (5-20, 2-16), which led 50-40 after three quarters in the Nighthawks 63-53 win Jan. 23 in Monmouth, Oregon, once again gave the Nighthawks troubles early. The Nighthawks held a 21-20 lead with five minutes left in the first half before a Clare Eubanks jumper sparked a 15-5 run to end the half gave Northwest Nazarene a 36-25 halftime lead. Western Oregon (5-20, 2-16) was able to cut it to 36-31 early in the third, but a 10-0 run brought the lead back to 15, and the last-place Wolves never threatened again.
“They beat Western Washington, and they almost beat them the other time,” Northwest Nazarene coach Steve Steele said about the Wolves. “It’s a coaching thing, (Western Oregon coach Holly Howard-Carpenter) is really sharp and she does a great job preparing the team.”