The best season in Flagler College men’s basketball history came to an end on Thursday night.
The Saints never led and couldn’t slow down heavyweight Northwest Missouri State in a 77-46 loss in the NCAA Division II national semifinals. Third-seeded Flagler (18-3) had never been to the national tournament since it completed its full move from the NAIA to Division II in 2009.
The Saints were a provisional member in NCAA Division II beginning in 2006, but didn’t become a full-fledged member until the summer of 2009 and weren’t eligible for the national tournament until then. Flagler played in three straight NAIA Division II national tournaments, but never went past the second round.
The loss ended a 16-game winning streak but sends Flagler into a very different looking offseason.
The Saints put to rest a streak off 12 consecutive losing seasons and did so in emphatic fashion. And as one of the top four teams in Division II, coach Chad Warner and the Saints have a much stronger recruiting sales pitch than just going to school in the nation’s oldest city.
The Bearcats, seeded No. 2 in the tournament, have won Division II national championships in 2017 and ’19, and will play for their third on Saturday afternoon against top-seeded West Texas A&M.
All-American guard Jaizec Lottie led the Saints with 15 points.
The Saints saw things slip away midway through the opening half. A 3-pointer from Chase Fiddler trimmed Flagler’s deficit to 17-14, but the Bearcats responded with a flurry.
Northwest Missouri went on a blitz, outscoring the Saints 24-2 over the next 6 minutes, 17 seconds and putting the game out of reach.
A night earlier, Flagler came back from an 11-point second-half deficit and edged Truman State 70-69. Chris Metzger hit a pair of free throws with 10 seconds to play to put the Saints in front and Flagler had a defensive stop on the ensuing Truman possession to seal the victory.
The Saints battled every second of that game but didn’t have enough juice left to hang with the Bearcats. The closest Flagler would get in the game came on a Fiddler trey with 14:44 left in the first half to slice the deficit to 10-9. The Saints struggled again with the 3-ball, hitting just 5 of 21 shots from behind the arc.