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  • Writer's pictureJoe Malandruccolo

NAIA Men's Update - Early Season Upsets

There’s no need to be upset! This kind of thing happens to everybody from time to time. It’s a very natural part of the game we all love.


There’s more at play when pulling off an upset than simply adding to a team’s win column. A team’s season trajectory can be altered after just 40 minutes. Doubts about a new coach can be absolved overnight and players can find confidence after one game that months of preseason workouts could not give them.


The NAIA men’s season breathes anew, but the upset remains as old as college basketball itself. Take a gander at some of the most striking upsets that we’ve seen so far.


Presentation 93, #24 Briar Cliff 80

Presentation’s team philosophy, installed by first-year Head Coach Trevor Flemmer, features three pillars of life and basketball: Family, Communication, and Controlling the Controllable.


As a family, you love your teammates on and off the court, even when you disagree or don’t get along with them. Communicating on the same page remains imperative for basketball and life, and keeps the family relationship healthy. And you can’t sweat things like the referee making a call or your date not calling you back. You move on quickly and it’s your next move that means the most, that’s controlling the controllable.


Flemmer knows that anybody can be beaten. Still, he said this win holds some extra weight to his team, which finished 13-15 last year and was 4-23 just two years ago. “It gives us that confidence to maybe not be scared of anyone we play,” he said.


One player opposing teams should be scared of, Isaiah Cabrera, came off the bench and ignited for 28 points, five rebounds and four assists on 80% shooting and a perfect 5 of 5 from three. Add 16 points from DJ Bonds, 13 from Travez Nyx and 12 from Jeremiah Gilyard and Presentation rolls out a lineup where, according to Flemmer, “Any one of these guys could have a big night.”


Presentation is hoping to position themselves to make a run in the North Star Athletic Association Tournament, where it hasn’t won a game since 2018-19.


#24 Briar Cliff 85, #7 William Penn 77

It’s possible that the best way to get over being upset is to go pull off an upset of your own. Six days after their loss to Presentation, Briar Cliff beat last year’s top-ranked team, a William Penn group that hadn’t lost a regular season game in nearly 11 months.


The Chargers caught fire in the first half, shooting almost 60% from the floor and hitting seven of 10 threes. Briar Cliff kept the lead out of reach in the second half thanks to sinking 15 free throws, including seven in the final two minutes.


Senior Nick Hoyt poured in 23 points while graduate student Jaden Kleinhesselink added 18 points and five rebounds. Senior Quinn Vesey went for 13 points, five assists and five rebounds and junior Matthew Stilwill tallied 13 points off the bench, the fifth Charger to score double figures in the game.


Briar Cliff suffered losses in the opening round of both the Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament and the NAIA tournament last year. With formidable teams like Northwestern, Jamestown and Dordt on the schedule, the Chargers will have ample opportunities to test themselves and compile an impressive resume with the hope of making some noise in the postseason.


Valley City State 91, Northwestern (IA) 83

Valley City State finds comfort when its opponent feels uncomfortable. The Vikings aim to eradicate the opposition’s strengths and never relent. Head coach Ryan Montgomery wants his players to be game-wreckers. “We look for chaos and trying to create disruption in the game as best as we possibly can.”


A high enough dosage of chaos and disruption can cause a team’s downfall, something that Montgomery noticed just before finishing their upset. “The fatigue set in. Around under five minutes I saw it in the Northwestern players, the shots weren’t falling as easily,” he said. “They couldn’t get to what they wanted to. They shot more flat-footed and looked winded.”


One of these agents of chaos is sophomore Cayden Rickard. As a first-time starter, Rickard has a lot on his plate, but Montgomery said that Rickard dictated the game with passing and playmaking and closed the game when they had the lead. Last year’s starting point guard, Tate Hebrink, now comes off the bench, a role Montgomery says will benefit the team moving forward. The senior seems to be doing just fine in his new role, tallying 22 points against Northwestern on eight of nine shooting in 18 minutes.


Montgomery believes this win represents a step in the right direction for the program. But ultimately, that next step will need to be taken in the postseason. Valley City has fallen in the North Star Athletic Association tournament semifinals in each of the last two years.


Southern Oregon 94, #6 William Jessup 88

What’s that old saying about not succeeding and then trying again? Southern Oregon swallowed a five-point road overtime loss to #6 William Jessup, waited five days, switched buildings and then beat the Warriors by six.


Nine different Raiders scored at least one bucket and all five starters scored double figures. Senior guard Atmar Mundu led the scoring with 32 points on 9-of-11 shooting, including 5-of-6 from distance. Junior forward Dominic McGarvey added 14 points and nine boards and senior forward Josh Meyer had a little of everything on the floor with 10 points, seven rebounds and six assists.


Southern Oregon built a lead in the final five minutes of the first half, which peaked at nine points and closed at seven. The Raiders maintained the lead for all but two minutes and 40 seconds in the second half, when William Jessup led by only one single point.


The squad from Ashland, Ore. made a run to the Cascade Collegiate Conference championship game last year, losing to then-No. 9 ranked College of Idaho. They open up conference play on December 2 against those same Yotes, now ranked No. 4, with the chance to both exact revenge and pull another major upset.


Cumberland 76, Reinhardt 71

Cumberland head coach Jeremy Lewis said it emphatically: “We want our guys to be relentless.” That started this summer when players worked out almost too much. “I was actually having to make guys get out of the gym for a little while,” said Lewis.


Twenty-three forced turnovers, including 11 steals, and 17 points off those turnovers indicate how relentless this team can be. “We want to be elite defensively. That travels with you every night,” said Lewis. “You might not make shots every night but the one thing you can do is defend and rebound like crazy.”


Unfortunately for Reinhardt, Cumberland made shots. Six players scored nine or more points, led by Jaylen Negron’s 14 points and supplemented by Jordan Stephens and TJ Stargell with 13 points apiece. Stephens and Stargell lead this team, according to Lewis. Stephens earned all Mid-South first team honors last year while Stargell claimed the league defensive player of the year award.


And then there’s Nassir Coleman, who’s long, active and has a great feel for the game, according to Lewis. Coleman has also earned the comparison to a former NBA defensive player of the year. “He gets frustrated when I make the comparison but I’m like, ‘You’re our Draymond (Green),’ said Lewis. “He’s high-motor, high-energy. He does a lot of everything.”


This looks like a deep team with a lot of weapons who can score. Cumberland fell one game shy of advancing to the final 16 in Kansas City last season, which remains all the motivation the Phoenix need as they get their season rolling.


Coastal Georgia 88, Reinhardt 85

“We came out and answered the bell,” said Coastal Georgia head coach Jesse Watkins. “It’s a joy to sit on the sideline and watch.”


Coastal had every reason to lose this game. Layton Veon and Jamill Giles, two of the tallest players on the team, missed due to injury and 2020-21 all-conference guard Kenny Brown played poorly while hurt. Coastal also got outplayed in several areas, getting out-rebounded by 21, going minus-13 on second chance points and their bench getting outscored by 26.


And yet, Coastal got the job done. Knowing they couldn’t get into a slugfest with Reinhardt, Coastal had to hit their shots. “We shared the ball real well and kept the ball moving,” said Watkins.


The difference in the game could be found at the charity stripe. “We just gotta win the battle at the free throw line and we’ll be good,” said Watkins. It’s something the team emphasized all summer after struggling last year. Both teams took 24 free throws, Coastal made three more than Reinhardt. Win the battle, win the war.


Two of those free throws came from Rodney Wiley Jr. with one second remaining to ice the game. A perfect 8-for-8 from the line and 6-for-6 from distance, Wiley Jr. finished with 26 points. Nick Jiles added 23 points and nine assists and Mason McMurray scored 15 points and gathered eight rebounds.


Watkins said this win lets Coastal Georgia know that they could make some noise this season. “We thought that if we could win short-handed, we can compete with anybody in our league,” he said. “We love to play. We don’t care who we play, we’ll play anybody.”



The rankings will continue to shuffle as the season marches on. Fans will look back at these games and decide if it changed a team’s season or if it was just one really good night.


Any way you slice it, there’s plenty more upsets where these came from

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