Out of more than 300 NCAA Division II schools, only eight get to see their men’s basketball team hoist a Regional Championship and play in the Elite Eight tournament. Out of more than 300 NCAA Division II schools, only two get to see their men’s basketball team play for the Division II Championship on national television.
In the most memorable season in PLNU sports history, just five years after officially joining NCAA Division II, the Sea Lions (31-5) were one of those two teams. They won the PacWest Championship, which was the first in the team’s history. They won the NCAA West Regional Championship in their own stadium, which was the first by any PLNU sports team. They advanced to the Elite Eight in Evansville, Indiana as an underdog #6 seed, looking to make even more noise on a nationwide scale.
They took down the Southeast Regional Champion Royals from Queens University of Charlotte, defeated the Midwest Regional Champion Screaming Eagles from Southern Indiana in front of a roaring away crowd, and had a chance to take down the undefeated Northwest Missouri State Bearcats in the National Championship.
And yet, there was still the feeling of heartbreak at the season’s conclusion, because despite being the underdog, it was seen by the team as an opportunity to go all the way. That opportunity gradually disappeared in the final minutes of the National Championship, as the Bearcats pulled away for a 64-58 victory over the Sea Lions to complete their perfect season.
“I could care less about the awards,” said junior guard Daulton Hommes, who was named the National Association of Basketball Coaches Division II Player of the Year. “I wanted to win that game more than anything.”
Hommes led all players in the National Championship with 26 points, including a perfect 10-10 from the free-throw line, while senior forward Preston Beverly recorded 15 points, two steals, nine rebounds and a highlight block. Perhaps the deciding factor, however, was the team’s uncharacteristic shooting of 3-17 from the three-point line, compared to an 8-18 three-point performance by the Bearcats.
“I think it had a lot to do with our opponent,” said Head Coach Ryan Looney in reference to the team’s three-point shooting struggles. “They’re very good. They had a ton of length, and they could contest our shots probably better than anyone we’ve played all year.”
In addition to the disparity in three-point shooting percentages, the team also had some misfortunes. Two of the Bearcats’ three-pointers in the second half came just in time before the shot clock ran out, while another was scored as a buzzer-beater at the end of the first half following a turnover.
“Really, that was the difference in the game,” said Looney. “But, we could have controlled that. One of them came off a loose ball, we get off the floor a little bit earlier, they don’t have that opportunity. It was a tough shot, but we should have had multiple guys diving on that ball and not giving them an opportunity to come up with it.”
With a PacWest title, a West Regional title and a National Championship appearance in the history books, the team will inevitably look very different next year. Four starters are currently seniors: Beverly, point guard Josh Rodriguez, center Ziggy Satterthwaite, and guard Tanner Nelson. Looney could not confirm if Hommes, who is currently ranked #96 in the ESPN’s top 100 NBA prospects, would be returning for his senior year.
“I think it’s yet to be determined if he’ll actually be back here next year or not,” said Looney. “He’s going to kind of test the waters and see what the NBA interest actually is. Sixty players get drafted. So he’s going to go through that process and see what happens.”
Despite the departure of most of the team’s starting rotation, Looney remains optimistic that returning players will be able to fill in the starting roles, and that the national exposure of this postseason run will help the recruiting process.
“Let’s not forget [junior] Sterling Somers started every game his first two years here,” said Looney. “So we look at him as a returning starter. Brock Mackenzie and Kaden Anderson were freshmen and are going to be very good players in our league and for our team. Like always, our recruiting will go very well. We’re in the midst of it right now, just trying to wrap up the guys we want to add.”
One thing is for certain: no matter what happens regarding the uncertain future of Hommes, and even if the National Championship did not end in a way the PLNU community was hoping for, the 2018-19 season will never be forgotten. By being broadcasted in the biggest games of NCAA Division II basketball, the future of the program, and perhaps the future of PLNU, will only be swayed in a more positive direction.
“It was a fantastic ride,” said Looney. “We had a lot of fun.”