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Nova Southeastern completes perfect season, wins D-II title

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — Will Yoakum scored 31 points, Dallas Graziani added 24 points, nine assists and three steals and top-ranked Nova Southeastern beat West Liberty 111-101 on Saturday to win the first NCAA Division II national championship in program history.

“They’re special,” Nova Southeastern coach Jim Crutchfield said, “because they’re 36-0.”

The Sharks (36-0), who went 33-1 last season with their lone loss coming in the Elite 8, became just the sixth undefeated team to win the title, joining Northwest Missouri State (38-0 in 2018-19, the first of three straight championships), Findlay (36-0 in 2008-09), Fort Hays State (34-0 in 1995-96), Cal State Bakersfield (33-0 in 1992-93) and Evansville (29-0 in 1964-65).

RJ Sunahara fouled out with about five minutes left and finished with 28 points on 12-of-17 shooting for Nova Southeastern and Kobe Rodgers added 13 points and seven rebounds.

Bryce Butler led West Liberty (33-4) with 32 points and nine rebounds. Christian Montague hit 5 of 7 from 3-point range and finished with 19 points, Steve Cannady and Zach Rasile scored 11 apiece and Chaz Hinds added 10 points.

Sunahara made a layup to open the scoring about a minute into the game, Graziani scored to make it 16-6 with 15:23 left in the first half and Nova Southeastern never trailed.

The Sharks, who went into the game leading Division II in scoring (102.5 per game), set the record for most points by a team in an NCAA men’s or women’s championship game at any division.

Sunahara scored 20 first-half points on 9-of-11 shooting, Yoakum made 6 of 7 from the field to score 15 points and Graziani scored 14 points with seven assists as the Sharks took a 55-48 lead into intermission. It was the highest-scoring half in D-II championship history.

West Liberty was called for three flagrant fouls and two technical fouls. Ben Sarson was called for a Flagrant 2 foul and ejected after he elbowed Yoakum — who played four seasons for the Hilltoppers before transferring to Nova Southeastern —- on a box out early in the second half. Sarson, a 6-foot-6 sophomore, started each of the 35 games in which he appeared this season, averaging 10.5 points and 4.4 rebounds.

The Hilltoppers’ Malik McKinney fouled out midway through the second half and then was assessed a technical foul and Montague was called for technical with 8:15 to play.

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More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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