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Northwest Missouri State's Ben McCollum coaches against St. Anselm in Thursday's national semifinal in Evansville, Indiana.

EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Not many Division-2 players were garnering compliments from NBA All-Stars during the offseason, but Northwest Missouri State’s opponent in Saturday’s national championship game will have one such player. 

Point Loma Nazarene junior Daulton Hommes spent a portion of his summer playing one-on-one with Boston forward Gordon Hayward as the Celtic recovered from his gruesome leg injury last season.

“I think he’s really, really good. It was nice of him to come over and workout with me. I needed somebody to play against, and he’s actually good.” Hayward told the Boston Globe for a September 23, 2018, article

Hommes knows a thing or two about injuries after ACL tears caused him to miss his junior and senior seasons of high school basketball. The Bellingham, Washington native continued to chase his dream though and a six-inch growth spurt certainly didn’t hurt things as he walked-on at Western Washington. 

“He has obviously been special for us,” Point Loma coach Ryan Looney said. “But I wish I could put into words how special this is for him. We are talking about a kid that would have had the chance to play at the highest levels of Division-I if it wasn’t for some pretty serious injuries when he was younger. I don’t know a lot of guys that would have fought through what he fought through to get himself to the point where he is at now.”

Hommes developed into an all-league player at Western Washington, but made the decision to transfer to Point Loma in San Diego, California, for his junior season. The decision has paid off as the 6-foot-8 wing was named the National Association of Basketball Coaches Player of the Year on Thursday prior to his team’s Final Four win over Southern Indiana — the host school for the Elite Eight. 

“It is kind of of a dream come true,” Hoomes said of the Player of the Year award. “But definitely not what I want. I want one more win.”

Hoomes is averaging 21.7 points per game this season and is a 48 percent three-point shooter. He has at least 20 points in all five of the Sea Lions’ NCAA Tournament games. 

“Coming in as the six seed, we are definitely the underdog and we like that,” Hommes said. “I’ve kind of been an underdog my whole life as well.”

The tremendous length that the Bearcats have should help them against Hommes. One of the top defensive players on the Northwest roster is 6-foot-8 junior Ryan Welty.

“We’ve got 6-8 guys too and I feel like we have really good 6-8 guys so we will compete and see what we can do to guard him,” McCollum said.

In addition to Welty, the Bearcats have several other options that they can use to defend Hommes including their best individual defender, freshman guard Diego Bernard. Bernard frustrated St. Anselm All-American Tim Guers in Thursday’s Final Four game and although Bernard would be giving up eight inches to Hommes, his ball-pressure and denial could be useful in the matchup. 

Another wildcard to see minutes against Hommes is a hybrid of Welty and Bernard with junior Kirk Finley. Finley started the last two games with Bernard working his way back from injury and gives the Bearcats a 6-foot-4 frame with the ability to guard on the perimeter as well. 

“He can multiple positions, that is the benefit of him,” McCollum said. “He can guard length and he can guard little guys so that helps us a ton when either Welty needs a break or Diego needs a break.”

As it has been all season, defense will be a team effort with MIAA Defensive Player of the Year Ryan Hawkins providing help defense inside and Trevor Hudgins using his quickness on the perimeter after grabbing six steals in the Final Four game. 

“We definitely rely on our defense, but it is our communication on defense and in transition, taking away the easy buckets and stuff like that that we really pride ourselves on,” Hawkins said.

The Bearcats (37-0) are 40 minutes of basketball from achieving basketball immortality and becoming the fifth team in Division-II history to complete an undefeated regular season with a national championship. That bit of history will be decided on Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Ford Center in Evansville, Indiana. 

“It is going to be a battle,” Northwest senior Joey Witthus said. “We just have to make sure that we do the things that we do best. That starts with defense for us and that leads to our offense.”