Northwest Missouri State continued its perfect season and recent dominance in the MIAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
The Bearcats won a MIAA record-breaking fourth straight conference tournament title Sunday afternoon at Municipal Auditorium, beating Washburn 82-53.
To some, this one had seemed improbable. Northwest lost four senior starters off of last year’s team. The Bearcats were picked second in the preseason conference poll.
“This is amazing, especially with the team we have now,” said Northwest freshman point guard Trevor Hudgins, who finished with 27 points and eight assists. “This team came from nothing. They said we lost a bunch of seniors, but we saw the group of 11 we have is hard working.”
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Next for Northwest, 32-0, is the Central Regional in the NCAA Division II Tournament. Northwest will likely be the host team. Washburn, 24-7, is expected to receive a bid into the postseason tournament.
“The culture that has been set here is amazing,” said Northwest junior Joey Witthus, who scored 25 points and was selected MVP of the tournament. “Look at the fan support and the whole community; it is nice to be a part of.”
For 10 minutes, Washburn stayed close, but the methodical and relentless offensive attack by Northwest allowed the Bearcats to slowly grow their lead to 39-25 by halftime.
The Ichabods scored first on a three-pointer by senior Javion Blake. Washburn also led by three at 7-4 after a basket by sophomore Tyler Geiman.
A combination of gritty defense and some pinpoint three-point shooting by Northwest helped the Bearcats take control of the game.
Northwest went ahead 9-7 on a three-pointer by Witthus. Washburn managed to stay close over the next few minutes and trailed only 19-17 after a three-pointer by Blake.
The game started to slip away from Washburn with under 4 minutes left in the first half. A three-pointer by junior Ryan Welty gave Northwest a double-digit lead at 32-21 with 3:32 left. The shot caused Washburn to call timeout and regroup.
After the timeout, Northwest got a stop and then Witthus made a two-point field goal for a 34-21 lead.
“We tried to focus on what we do,” Witthus said. “We wanted to come out and play hard. Credit to Washburn. They played amazing. They will be in the regional. I am sure we will see them again.”
Six minutes into the second half, the Bearcats dashed all hope of Washburn pulling off an upset. Leading 42-30, Northwest freshman Trevor Hudgins drilled a three-pointer. After Witthus hit two free throws, Hudgins sank another three-pointer.
Feeding off that momentum, Northwest freshman Diego Bernard got a steal and raced down court for an acrobatic layup. Washburn called timeout. Northwest responded with a stop and then another three-pointer by Hudgins, which ballooned the Bearcats’ lead to 55-30.
Hudgins led all scorers with 27 points. He made five of seven shots behind the three-point arc and was 11 for 17 overall.
Fort Hays State wins women’s title
Fort Hays scored the first seven points and never trailed, beating defending national champion Central Missouri 63-56 Sunday afternoon at Municipal Auditorium. It was the first MIAA conference tournament title for the Tigers.
Baskets by Tatyana Legette, Belle Barbieri and Taylor Rolfs at the start of the game gave the Tigers the early advantage. Fort Hays held an 18-5 lead late in the first quarter but saw Central Missouri go on a 15-2 run that stretched into the opening seconds of the second quarter.
But after the Jennies closed to 22-20, Fort Hays held Central Missouri to four more points the rest of the second quarter. The Tigers went into halftime with a 32-28 lead.
Fort Hays, 30-1, earned the automatic bid for the Central Regional in the NCAA Division II Tournament.