It is edge-of-your-seat drama.
Northwest hung on for a 52-51 victory over Emporia State at Bearcat Arena. It was Northwest second straight nail-biting victory at home.
The Bearcats are now 15-5 overall and 8-3 in the MIAA. It is a truly remarkable accomplishment when you factor in that Northwest has been without starting point guard DeShaun Cooper the entire season and is now playing without starting center Dillon Starzl.
“We will probably have to grind it out a lot more,” Northwest point guard Matt Wallace said. “Not having Dillon in the post hurts, but it open things up, too. Other people have to look to score. It will be more of a grind, but that is how we like to play.
“The two wins this week is big time just to give everybody confidence who usually don’t play.”
Northwest has very little room for error or silly mistakes. The Bearcats found that out early in the second half when they built a 30-19 lead and seemed in control.
A few miscues later, Northwest was staring at 35-32 deficit.
“We just have to keep playing, keep competing and keep fighting,” Northwest coach Ben McCollum said. “Our margin for error is not great now so we have to make sure we are playing mistake-free basketball and giving great effort.
“I heard a great thing today from Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton about playing Duke. He said Duke intimidates you with their effort. They give so much effort in every aspect of the game and that’s what we have to do.”
The Bearcats gave that kind of effort when they fell behind and they didn’t have two of their top players in there to help out.
“Coach preaches to us that when someone goes down you try to do your role better,” junior Tyler Funk said. “If that means rebounding, you rebound better.”
Following McCollum’s words, Northwest regained the lead at 36-35 and stayed composed during a stretch that saw three ties.
Northwest went ahead for good at 45-43 on two free throws by DeAngelo Hailey and then solidified its advantage on a three-pointer by Alex Sullivan to make it 48-43.
Still, Northwest had to sweat it out until the buzzer. Emporia State closed to 52-51 on a three-pointer by Gavin Brown with 1:36 left in the game.
The Bearcats then played hard-nosed defense the rest of the way. The game ended on a desperation three-pointer by Emporia at the buzzer that fell well short of a miracle.
“I didn’t think we played great and we won. That is the sign of a mentally tough team,” McCollum said. “In saying that, I thought Emporia played great. They were active in the zone. Offensively, they were patient. They moved the basketball and really attacked.”
In the first half, Northwest had more control of the action. Part of that was because of the play of Wallace.
Wallace is a classic point guard in the sense he looks at all options when he has the ball before he decides to shoot.
Wallace looks inside, peeks at the wings and only when nobody is open and the shot clock is winding down will he put up a shot.
In the first few minutes against Emporia, Wallace was the option and he delivered, scoring the first six points of the game.
Northwest maintained that advantage the rest of the half and went into halftime ahead 26-19.
A perfect example of Wallace pass first mentality came early in the second half. Instead of taking an open 15-foot jumper, Wallace passed the ball to a wide open Hailey who drained a three-pointer that put Northwest up 30-19.
Gritty, team basketball was the main reason Northwest was able to hold the lead the entire first half.
Emporia outshot Northwest 44 percent to 35 percent. The Bearcats won the scoreboard because they pulled down four more rebounds and committed four fewer turnovers. They won the hustle points.
— NWMSU Sports Information —