Dec. 5, 2013
Crooker's career high leads Bearcats in winBy David Boyce | Box Score | Photo Album
MARYVILLE, Mo. - On Tuesday afternoon, Northwest Missouri State men’s basketball coach Ben McCollum insisted his team was playing well in spite of two losses over the weekend.
Two days later, the Bearcats proved McCollum has a solid grasp of his team. Northwest scored the first 10 points and never trailed in its 75-59 victory over Pittsburg State Thursday evening at Bearcat Arena.
“We started to become the prey instead of the predator,” McCollum said. “When you become like that, you can get up early and get a lead, but you are never going to close because you are not in an attacking mode.
“I thought tonight, at the 7 or 8 minute mark, we started to slow it down. I told our players let’s run, let’s go and play fast and let’s keep attacking. That’s the mentality I want them to have throughout the rest of the season.”
The win pushed Northwest’s record back over .500 at 5-4. More importantly, the Bearcats won their MIAA opener.
The start could not have gone better. The Bearcats mixed a couple of three-pointers with a few baskets inside. Dillon Starzl was nearly unstoppable inside and point guard DeShaun Cooper created havoc with his quickness.
“We got the ball inside right off the bat,” said Grant Cozad, who finished with 12 points, making four of six from the field. “Once we get our inside-out game going, our shooters start to get going and everything starts clicking.”
Midway through the first half, Northwest still maintained a solid hold of the lead when Conner Crooker hit a three-pointer, giving the Bearcats a 27-14 lead.
It was definitely Crooker’s night. He finished with a career-high 27 points.
“Conner’s potential is there,” Cozad said. “He works hard. When he has the ball, something good is going to come out of a drive or a shot. He is a great passer inside.”
Pittsburg fought back and closed to 31-26. The Gorillas never got closer in the first half. Northwest went into halftime ahead 38-30.
“The key was we kept running the ball and we were not afraid to shoot it,” Crooker said. “The last couple of games we were afraid to score and kind of tried to keep the lead. This time we were trying to build a lead and keep attacking.”
The second half started nearly as well as the first 20 minutes for the Bearcats. Starzl scored the first basket on a power move in the paint. Crooker followed that up with a three-pointer that increased Northwest’s advantage to 43-30.
It got even better for the Bearcats midway through the second half. One nice play came when Crooker drove to the basket and slipped a pass inside to Cozad who finished to make it 51-39.
A minute later, Bryston Williams drove and passed the ball inside and once again Cozad finished. The basket gave Northwest a 55-39 lead.
Unlike the previous two games when Northwest blew double-digit leads and lost to Drury and Truman State, the Bearcats held firm control of their advantage throughout the second half.
“The last two games we gave up those runs so we tried to handle that adversity and once they hit us with that run, let’s go back at them with another run,” Cozad said.
“It was definitely a learning weekend for us, handling other teams’ runs. We are looking to improve off this game. We have Emporia State next.”
With 4:45 left, Northwest built a 63-46 lead on an interior pass from Cozad to Kyle Schlake.
The Gorillas made a very mild run and closed to 63-53. But Northwest made them pay when they went to a full-court press. The Bearcats quickly broke it and the end result was a dunk by Starzl.
Two free throws by Crooked pushed Northwest’s lead to 67-53 with 3 minutes left.
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