ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Zach Stenglein and Kevin Underwood each scored 21 points for host Nazareth Friday as the Golden Flyers outscored Westfield State in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament for men’s basketball, 78-71, before a spirited sellout crowd on Mike Daley Court at the Kidera Gymnasium.
The victory enabled the Golden Flyers to set a school record with their 24th win. It also marked Nazareth’s first NCAA Tournament win in 24 years. Nazareth (24-4 overall) plays again Saturday at 6:05 p.m. against UMass-Dartmouth, which rallied to take down Emerson, 86-83, in Friday’s first game. Saturday’s winner will gain a spot in the Sweet 16.
“It feels like a win where the whole Nazareth community had a piece in it,” said Nazareth Coach Kevin Broderick. “I can’t imagine that in any of those other 15 hosting pods that anyone had a better atmosphere than we did,”
Stenglein and Underwood were two of four Nazareth players who produced double-digit point totals. Stephen Gabel added 13 points and Jonathan Park added 10 points, nine rebounds, and three blocks. Nazareth played the final 3:45 of the game without Gabel, who fouled out for the first time this season. Park also fouled out in the closing minute, but the Golden Flyers were able to hang on.
“I thought we did a great job playing aggressively with the lead,” said Broderick. “They’re a very good team and we knew they would make a run, but every time we needed a basket Zach and Kevin came through. I love the mentality that we did not play on our heels when we had the lead.”
The Golden Flyers led for most of the game despite a resilient effort from the Owls, who finished the year at 22-5 overall. Stenglein scored 11 of his points in the first half as the Golden Flyers built a 36-31 lead. Park had six points in the first half, including a pair of basket-jarring dunks that inspired the crowd estimated at more than 1,100.
“We earned the right to have that atmosphere by going 24-4,” said Stenglein. “We love the idea of being able to play these games in front of our family and friends. Their noise volume really helped us.”
Gabel and Logan Blankenberg hit back-to-back three-pointers to trigger a 12-2 second-half scoring run that pushed Nazareth’s lead to 48-33 with less than 15 minutes to play. The Owls couldn’t recover even though they closed to within three points with less than seven minutes to play. Underwood, in particular, came up big for the Golden Flyers in scoring 15 of his points over the final 20 minutes.
Stenglein sank two free throws with 1:27 left to put Nazareth up 73-65. The Owls scored the next two baskets to pull within 73-69 with 35 seconds to go. Underwood made two free throws and Stenglein closed it out with three more foul shots before time expired.
“We feel confident when we are on the floor that all five guys have the ability to make a play,” Underwood said. “It’s great to have a team like that in that we are able to rely on our experience to make plays.”
Stenglein’s stat line included four assists and an 11-for-13 effort from the free-throw line. Underwood shot 7-for-11 from the field and went 7-for-7 from the line. Nazareth shot 26-for-62 (41.9%) from the field with four three-pointers. Westfield State was 26-for-61 (42.6%) from the floor with five three-pointers.
Nazareth’s last NCAA Tournament win came nearly 24 years ago to the day — March 5, 1998 — an 81-78 win at Brockport.