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No. 1 C of I rolls to NAIA Championship second round with 78-61 win over Westcliff

One down, five to go! The top-ranked Yotes defeated Westcliff 78-61 in the NAIA Championship opener Tuesday night. C of I hosts Xavier (La.) Wednesday at 7 p.m.

CALDWELL, Idaho — In order to finish atop the 2023 NAIA Men's Basketball National Championship bracket, the top-ranked College of Idaho Yotes need six wins in 11 days – high stakes. Luckily, C of I's first two contests are in the comfortable confines of Caldwell.

On Tuesday, the Yotes (31-1, 22-0 CCC) pulled away in the second half to defeat No. 16-seed Westcliff 78-61 in front of a packed crowd at the J.A. Albertson Activities Center. It marks College of Idaho's 31st-straight win, and 36th in-a-row at home.

KTVB sports reporter Brady Frederick described the first half of the Yotes-Warriors battle as "scrappy," with highlights dunks from C of I's Jake O'Neil and Straton Rogers. O'Neil, a sophomore guard out of Fruitland, scored a team-high 16 points in Tuesday's first-round win.

The Yotes trailed 14-12 early against Westcliff (18-9, 14-6 CPC) , until an impressive play by Cascade Collegiate Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Charles Elzie. After poking the ball loose, Elzie hit Hailey native Johnny Radford across the court for an impressive layup to tie the game.

College of Idaho led Westcliff 33-31 at the break. The two-point difference was the Yotes' closest mark at halftime since they trailed by five against Southern Oregon back on Jan. 21.

The Warriors shot 41.4% from the field and drilled 7-of-8 shots from the free-throw line in the first half. The Yotes also shot 41.4% from the field in the first half, but just 9.1% from behind the arc and 57.14% from the free-throw line. 

To start the second half, C of I sprinted to a 9-0 run, and finally found success from deep with a three pointer from Elzie to give the Yotes a 38-31 advantage. Another Elzie layup at the halfway point of the second half put College of Idaho up 50-38.

The Warriors were held to just 33.33% from the field and 25% from behind the arc in the second half. Meanwhile, the Yotes shot an impressive 51.72%, while making 14-of-16 free throws. 

Elzie finished the game with 11 points, three steals and two rebounds. Drew Wyman also scored in double figures (10), while grabbing four boards. 

College of Idaho's 78-61 win over Westcliff puts the Yotes into the second round of the NAIA National Championship

C of I hosts No. 8 seed Xavier (La.) (23-8, 14-6 RRAC) on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Caldwell. 

Updated NAIA National Championship bracket:

Credit: NAIA

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