March 8, 2012
Still unfinished work for Bearcats
By David Boyce
Other than sticking together, the best quality of the 2011-12 Northwest Missouri State men’s basketball team is its ability to learn from a loss.
From head coach Ben McCollum to senior starters Kyle Haake and Jake Reinders that was the mentality following a tough 56-53 loss to Pittsburg State in the semifinals of the MIAA Tournament Saturday evening at Municipal Auditorium.
Sure, the Bearcats wanted to return to Maryville with the tournament trophy. They wanted to enter the NCAA Division II South Central Regional filled with confidence and riding momentum.
Instead, Northwest faces a team in that position. The Bearcats, 22-6, takes on a Washburn, 24-7, at 8:30 P.M. Saturday in Wichita Falls, Texas. Washburn, the No. 4 seed, has won its last six games, including three in the MIAA Tournament.
Meanwhile, Northwest, the No. 5 seed, is 2-2 in its last four games.
The Bearcats, though, have reasons to be upbeat about their quarterfinal match-up against Washburn this season.
As stated before, Northwest learns from its losses. That was clear in its regular-season finale against Missouri Southern. Earlier in the season, Northwest lost to the Lions.
The Bearcats needed to beat Southern in the last game to garner a share of the regular-season MIAA crown.
And then in the quarterfinals of the MIAA Tournament, Northwest faced Southwest Baptist, which beat the Bearcats 91-77 on Feb. 21.
Northwest avenged that loss by beating Baptist 74-62. It was the first time any of Northwest players competed in the MIAA Tournament.
“This team has done a great job of learning as we played. When we played Missouri Southern, we got beat by them and learned from that. When we got beat by SBU, we learned from that,” McCollum said.
“I have no doubt in my mind these kids will learn from this game (Pitt State) and carry it on to the national tournament. For not having been here, these guys played great.”
What did the Bearcats learn from the loss against Pittsburg State?
When you get a big lead, protect it. Northwest scored the first seven points of the game and jumped to a 15-4 lead 8 minutes into the game.
“You shouldn’t get comfortable with a lead,” Haake said. “We shouldn’t get away from what got us the lead.
“In the Southwest Baptist game, we didn’t get everything we wanted in the first half, but we stuck with our defensive plan and we started getting things going on the offensive end.”
Added Reinders: “The main thing is not going away from what is working. Once we get a lead, we will have to hold on to it a lot better. We can’t give up on our defensive scheme.”
The Pittsburg State game will help for another reason. Northwest beat the Gorillas twice during the regular season. The Bearcats saw how hunger Pitt was to not allow a team to beat it three times in one season.
Northwest will face the exact same situation against Washburn. The Bearcats beat the Ichabods 65-59 on Dec. 3 in Maryville and 70-63 Jan. 25 in Topeka.
Once the ball is tipped, many of those facts are meaningless. Northwest is thrilled to be in the NCAA Division II Tournament for the first time since 2008.
“We got a chance to play in the national tournament,” McCollum said. “We will work on things we got a little stagnant offensively and fix them. It was probably a good loss. We will look back and hope this is a positive for us.
“This team is certainly not done.”
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