Nov. 30, 2011
'Cats push past Hornets
By David Boyce
At the start of the second half, Northwest Missouri State men’s basketball team came out and slapped the floor.
The gesture harkens back to a time when the Bearcats were known for their gritty defense and deep runs into postseason play.
But on Wednesday night at Bearcat Arena in the MIAA opener, Northwest saw Emporia State get on a blistering hot streak to start the second half.
“It didn’t work out too well,” said Northwest junior Justin Clark said.
The one-point halftime lead quickly turned into a seven-point deficit.
The Bearcats, though, never panicked. They displayed the winning traits in their 68-63 victory over Emporia State they will make them a formidable opponent throughout conference.
“Part of it is that first conference game and believing you can win, and now I think we believe a little bit more,” Northwest coach Ben McCollum said.
In improving to 6-0 overall, the Bearcats played together, did the dirty work of grabbing key offensive rebounds to pull out a close game down the stretch.
“Knowing we are a team got us through,” Clark said. “Everybody helped.”
It truly was an all-around team effort. Perhaps last year or two years ago, Northwest might not have known how to respond when an 18-17 halftime lead turned into a 27-20 deficit a few minutes into the second half.
“In the second half, we just couldn’t stop them,” McCollum said. “We are going to have to improve some things and guard the ball a little better.”
Part of it was some great offensive plays by Emporia State. The other part was Northwest didn’t play as well on the defensive end as it did in the first half when it limited the Hornets to 24 percent shooting.
“We weren’t fundamentally sound,” Clark said.
But Northwest quickly got on track and closed to 41-40 on a three-pointer by Alex Sullivan. It has only field goal attempt of the game.
With about 9 minutes left, Northwest took its first lead since the opening of the second half on two free throws by Sullivan that made it 42-41.
Emporia State regained the lead on a three-pointer by Derrell Conner and held it for about 3 minutes.
The Bearcats forged a 51-51 tie on a three-point play by Dillon Starzl.
In the final 6 minutes, Northwest made all the key plays to seal the victory. It started with a steal and dunk by Clark that gave the Bearcats a 52-50.
“A dunk,” said Clark, “can be a game-changing play. I felt good everybody fed off that.”
Down the stretch, Northwest played smart, tenacious basketball. It started on the boards.
The first key offensive rebound came with 2:13 left. Kyle Haake, who finished with a team-high 12 points, grabbed the board, was fouled and made two free throws that gave Northwest a 61-56 lead.
A minute later, Sullivan did the exact same thing and made both free throws that gave the Bearcats a 63-58 lead.
“Those were huge,” McCollum said. “Our objective in the game was to increase possessions. We were able to do that and I think that was a key to our success.”
Northwest did everything right in the final 3 minutes. The Bearcats made nine of 10 free throws in the closing minutes to keep Emporia State two possessions away from tying.
“We have so many players on the floor and on the bench that gives us so much energy that we feed off of each other,” Sullivan said. “We encourage each other.”
In the first half, Northwest went nearly 5 minutes before it scored its first points. The Bearcats shot 28 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes and scored just 18 points in the first half.
“I think the nerves got to us a little in the first half,” McCollum said. “I felt like we were getting open shots, but we couldn’t step up and knock them down.”
Despite their struggles on offense, the Bearcats still went into halftime ahead 18-17.
Northwest showed that solid defense can overcome poor offense for a period of time.
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