Starzl leads Bearcats into MIAA semifinals with win over Northeastern

NWMSUJunior forward Dillon Starzl stepped to the free throw line for Northwest Missouri State men’s basketball team with 30 seconds left and his team clinging to a two-point lead.

Confidence level was high that he would make both free throws and put away a stubborn Northeastern State squad Thursday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the MIAA Tournament at Municipal Auditorium.

The day belonged to Starzl. He was nearly unstoppable with his post moves.

Starzl used major body english to will the first free throw in. He swished the second attempt. Those turned out to be the final points in Northwest’s 69-65 victory.

“I wasn’t trying to think about it too much,” Starzl said of his free throws. “I knew I missed some early. I just had to go up and hit these two and we would be good if we get stops on defense.”

The Bearcats, 20-9, move on. They will face No. 1 seed Fort Hays State noon Saturday.

Starzl, who played high school basketball at Kearney High School in Kearney, Mo., was great throughout. He finished with a game-high 25 points.

Starzl was part of the hot start by the Bearcats in the second half when Northwest extended its halftime lead from 39-36 to 46-36. His first basket in the second half gave the Bearcats the 10-point lead.

“I knew they were going to play straight behind me in the post,” Starzl said. “We were focused on going inside pretty much the whole game. I was able to get a rhythm going and I was able to keep it going the whole game.”

A little later, Starzl hit another bucket to put Northwest ahead 55-43. Freshman Conner Crooker followed with a basket that gave the Bearcats a 57-43 lead with 12 minutes left.

Northeastern slowly whittled away its deficit and even took a 65-64 lead 3:59 left. The RiverHawks didn’t score again.

It was a gritty win for the Bearcats, who played a near-perfect first half on offense.

Starzl went 7 for 7 from the field in the first 20 minutes, and Crooker, who finished with 13 points, made all three of his shots in the first half.

The Bearcats shot 71 percent from the field in the first half, but needed a three-pointer by DeAngelo Hailey at the buzzer to go into halftime with a three-point lead.

“I didn’t realize we shot that well until we went into the locker room,” Northwest coach Ben McCollum said. “We shot 71 percent and we are up three points on a lucky three we hit at the buzzer. No, it wasn’t lucky. He works on those every day. That is the shot he works on.

“I thought we did a good job of executing. We went inside. If we didn’t have so many turnovers we would have been better off.”

It was a good win for the Bearcats. The only negative occurred late in the second half when Crooker had to leave the game when he was elbowed in the head.

— NWMSU Sports Information —