Former Chrisman star Isaiah Jackson earns court time for Elite Eight-bound Northwest Missouri

Bill Althaus
The Examiner
Northwest Missouri State freshman guard Isaiah Jackson cuts his piece of the net after the Bearcats defeated host Northern State 91-86 in the NCAA Division II Central Region championship. The William Chrisman High School graduate sank two free throws with nine seconds left to seal the win and a berth in the Division II Elite Eight in Evansville, Indiana, next week.

The fact that true freshman Isaiah Jackson was on the floor with nine seconds left and the game on the line told him a lot.

With his team leading 89-86 in overtime of the NCAA Division II Central Region Championship in Aberdeen, S.D., the William Chrisman High School graduate and Northwest Missouri State guard stepped to the line.

If he made the two free throws, the Bearcats were assured of advancing to the Elite Eight national championship tournament in Evansville, Indiana. 

Jackson, The Examiner’s 2019-20 Co-Player of the Year and a Class 5 all-state selection, calmly sank both free throws to secure the No. 2-seeded Bearcats a 91-86 win over host and No. 1 seed and No. 2-ranked Northern State.

And it’s all because Bearcats head coach Ben McCollum – who said of the game, “You probably won't see a better college basketball game this year” – had grown to trust him to be on the floor at a pivotal point.

“It was all pretty amazing, and it’s great to talk with someone back home about it,” Jackson said by phone. “During the end of the regular season, Coach McCollum really gained trust in me, and I’ve been playing in some big games, and playing quite a few minutes.”

Northwest Missouri State guard Isaiah Jackson (4) drives to the lane in a game against Central Oklahoma earlier this season. Jackson, a William Chrisman High School graduate, earned more playing time as his true freshman season went on and helped the Bearcats reach the NCAA Division II Elite Eight next week in Evansville, Indiana.

The Bearcats overcame an 11-point deficit with 3:01 left in regulation to pave the way for Jackson’s victory-clinching free throws.

“I’ve been in situations like that before, but they were in high school games,” said Jackson, who calmly sank the game-winning basket as the Bears edged Noland Road rival Truman 50-48 in the Phog Allen Classic last year.

“Everyone in the gym knew who was going to take that last shot,” Chrisman coach Jake Kates said of that winning shot, “and Isaiah still goes out and hits it. He’s just that type of player – and I think his best basketball lies ahead.”

Looks like Kates was right.

“I went to the line with ultimate confidence because I’ve hit some big baskets, some big free throws, but none were as big as those,” Jackson said of his shots against Northern State.

“Now, looking back on it, it’s all a blur. Being a part of a game like that – especially being a freshman – is amazing. I wish I had words for it. To have my coach and my teammates trust me, then to hit those free throws, is part of the growing and learning process.

“I wish I could tell you how much I love this program, but I can’t put it into words either. I’m having the time of my life.”

Northwest Missouri State freshman guard Isaiah Jackson scores a basket to help the Bearcats defeat host Northern State 91-86 in the NCAA Division II Central Region championship. The William Chrisman High School graduate sank two free throws with nine seconds left to seal the win and a berth in the Division II Elite Eight in Evansville, Indiana, next week.

Jackson finished the game with Northern State with four points, one rebound, one assist and one steal in just seven minutes. He sank his only field goal attempt too.

Before that he played double-digit minutes in four of the previous five games, averaging 11.6 minutes in that span. He has averaged just 1.4 points per game over his first full season in college but is slowly working his way into the rotation of one of the top Division II basketball programs in the nation.

Northwest (23-2), which was ranked No. 1 much of the season and is now at No. 4, was named the No. 2 seed for the Elite Eight March 24-27 in Evansville. The Bearcats will meet No. 7 West Liberty of West Virginia in the first round at 6 p.m. March 24.

“We live to play another day,” Jackson said. “I’m playing against guys who are bigger, stronger, faster and with more experience than me, but I’m soaking it all in, learning something new from every game.

“We can’t wait to get to Indiana on March 24th.”

Freshman guard Isaiah Jackson, bottom left, poses with his Northwest Missouri State teammates after defeating host Northern State 91-86 in the NCAA Division II Central Region championship. Jackson, a William Chrisman High School graduate, sank two free throws with nine seconds left to seal the win and a berth in the Division II Elite Eight in Evansville, Indiana, next week.