Nova Southeastern men’s basketball stays perfect, wins Division II national title

Perfectly special.

The top-ranked Nova Southeastern University Sharks kept their perfect record intact by winning the NCAA Division II national championship on Saturday afternoon, defeating West Liberty (West Virginia), 111-101, in Evansville, Indiana.

NSU (36-0) shot 52.1 percent from the floor and set an NCAA record — regardless of division or gender — for most points scored in a national championship game.

“That was storybook, wasn’t it?” NSU coach Jim Crutchfield said after his team won the first national title in program history. “I’m happy for these guys. What a season.

“In basketball today, nobody goes undefeated. But these guys did. I love these guys.”

In a game televised nationally by CBS, the Sharks were led by Will Yoakum, RJ Sunahara and Dallas Graziani.

Yoakum, who started his career at West Liberty before transferring to NSU prior to this season, had a team-high 31 points. He was pounded all game, suffering a cut above his right eye in a would-be foul that was missed by the officials. Despite the punishment, he made 7-of-11 from the floor, including 4-of-6 on 3-pointers, and 13-of-15 on free throws.

Sunahara, who fouled out with 5:21 left, had 28 points on 12-for-17 shooting and a team-high nine rebounds. In the postgame on-court celebration, he was seen doing “snow angels” but with confetti instead of ice.

Graziani, who played high school ball at Pembroke Pines Charter, had 24 points, and he added game highs in assists (nine) and steals (three). He made 7-of-16 shots, including 4-of-7 from distance, and he converted on 6-of-7 free throws.

The victory was perfectly sweet for Crutchfield, who left West Liberty in March of 2017 to take over at NSU, which was coming off a losing record at the time.

West Liberty (33-4), which had its 18-game win streak snapped, was whistled for four flagrant fouls and two technicals, including one ejection.

Those issues helped to doom West Liberty, which made 16 3-pointers to just eight for NSU.

This was a matchup of the top two scoring teams in the nation. NSU entered the game averaging 102.2 points, with a 26.1 scoring margin. Second-seeded West Liberty was second at 99.8 points with a 19.8 average margin.

Bryce “Buckets” Butler, who is West Liberty’s All-American, scored a game-high 32 points on 11-for-19 shooting, including 3-of-6 from deep. However, he made only 7-of-14 free throws.

NSU led 55-48 in a highlight-reel first half. The Sharks set a Division II championship game record with those 55 points.

Sunahara had 20 first-half points on 9-for-11 shooting. In fact, he had 12 points during NSU’s 14-6 start. Yoakum added 15 points, and Graziani had 14 points and seven assists.

As a team, NSU shot a blistering 62.9 percent, including 5-for-10 from distance.

West Liberty stayed in the game in the first half by making 8-of-16 on 3-pointers.

But with 17:58 left in the second half, West Liberty starter Ben Sarson was ejected for elbowing Yoakum in the midsection.

In another blow for West Liberty, Malik McKinney fouled out with 9:21 left. He was then assessed with a technical foul for kicking a chair in anger.

The Sharks hung on from there, and CBS broadcaster Rich Waltz — who was the Marlins’ play-by-play man from 2005 to 2017 — made a reference to the basketball success being enjoyed this season by the Miami Hurricanes (men and women), Florida Atlantic and NSU.

“What a time to be a college basketball team in South Florida,” Waltz said. “The Sharks are swimming!”

With the win, NSU became just the sixth NCAA Division II men’s basketball team to finish with a perfect record and the first such team from Florida.

Perfectly historic.