Jimmies qualify for national tournament

University of Jamestown men's basketball is headed for Omaha and head coach Danny Neville can sleep tonight.

uj mens hoops celebrate to nationals
The University of Jamestown mens' basketball team celebrates Thursday evening, March 4, 2021, after learning they earned a berth at the NAIA national tournament. John M. Steiner / The Sun

University of Jamestown men's basketball is headed for Omaha and head coach Danny Neville can sleep tonight.

The Jimmies on Thursday received one of 11 at-large bids to the NAIA men's basketball national championship tournament, which begins a week from Friday with opening-round play at eight host sites around the country.

Jamestown will face former North Star Athletic Association rival Bellevue University, Nebraska, on March 12 at the Omaha Sports Commission in Omaha, Nebraska.

The Jimmies had been on pins and needles since falling at Northwestern last Saturday in the semifinals of the Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament, with their fate in the hands of the selection committee. A sleep-deprived Neville was able to work in a 20-minute nap before Thursday's 4 p.m. practice.

"The days leading up to today, I've not slept well," Neville said. "I'm glad this is done and over with."


The NAIA basketball tournament is only fielding 48 teams, down from a planned 64 in the first year after combining two basketball divisions into one this season. The Jimmies last faced the Bellevue Bruins in February of 2018, falling 76-73.

Omaha is a two-hour drive from Neville's hometown of Des Moines, Iowa, and was a perfect spot for UJ to land. Other host sites are located in Kansas, Alabama, Indiana, Idaho, Kentucky and Louisiana.

"We felt pretty good, but there was still that chance," Neville said. "Our draw and the location were really good for us."

Bellevue (20-13, 9-5 NSAA) is coming off a second consecutive North Star Athletic Association tournament championship and will be making their 20th appearance in the tournament. The Bruins and the Jimmies are joined in their three-team pod with LSU-Shreveport (16-1), the champion of both the Red River Athletic Conference's season championship (6-1) and tournament championship.

The winner between Jamestown and Bellevue will advance to play LSU Shreveport, the tournament's No. 3 overall seed, on Saturday, March 13, in Omaha. The winner of that contest will move on to the 16-team final site in Kansas City from March 18-23.

The Jimmies (20-8) are making their 11th appearance at the national tournament. Jamestown's last appearance came in 2019, with the Jimmies advancing to the round of 16 before falling to eventual national champion Spring Arbor University, Michigan.

Spring Arbor defeated Oregon Tech 82-76 in the national championship game that season.

Jamestown's Mason Walters, the GPAC player of the year, said Thursday's selection process was a bit nerve-wracking.


"I was getting nervous there at the end and we weren't announced yet, but we were all pretty excited once we were announced," Walters said. "It's pretty cool."

Bellevue has won 14 of its last 18 and leads the all-time series against UJ 5-3. Bellevue has fallen in the national championship game twice in 19 previous appearances in the tournament.

The Jimmies aren't wasting any time getting ready.

"We just heard about it and we're going to watch film and get ready for them tonight," Neville said.

"Just prepare how we usually do for any other game," Walters added. "If we have a good week of practice and go down there with a good mindset I think we'll have a good shot to win a couple games."

Savaloja is the sports lead writer for The Jamestown Sun.
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