Despite holding on to the lead for over 21 minutes, the Missouri Western men fell late to rival Northwest Missouri State 68-59 on Saturday.
The Griffons, who haven’t beaten the Bearcats since 2013, had their arch rival on the ropes in the first half as they led 31-26 at the break.
“First half, I thought that we were right there and we obviously had the lead. But in terms of the way we wanted to play, we were right there,” Western head coach Will Martin said after the game. “We knew they were going to give us a run in the second half.”
Northwest did eventually find its offensive rhythm in the second half and it was from the three-point line that made all the difference in the game.
The Bearcats shot 5-13 from long range whereas the Griffons missed all eight of their three-point attempts in the final 20 minutes.
Aside from the two free throws by Bennett Stirtz to give the Bearcats their largest lead of the game with 31 seconds remaining, the Bearcats’ largest lead of the game previously was seven points at the 6:11 mark in the second half. The Griffons hung right with their opponent throughout what Western junior forward Will Eames called a “hard-fought game.” The game featured seven lead changes and eight ties.
“Northwest is the best team in the country. I don’t know what their rank is, but they’re the best team in the country until they’re knocked off,” Eames said. “I’m just proud of how our team played tonight and just moving forward, I think it’s something we can build on.”
The Bearcats got their biggest scoring contributions from three of their top players as Wes Dreamer and Bennett Stirtz dropped 16 points a piece. Diego Bernard poured in 15 points of his own with 13 of Bernard’s points coming in the second half. Eames led Western with 14 points and seven rebounds and sophomore Taye Fields noticed a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
The Western men have just three games remaining on their schedule as they sit in ninth place in the MIAA standings with only the top 10 teams making the conference tournament.
All of the Griffons’ final three opponents are below them in the conference standings and will all be played on their home floor. The Griffs will look to get even with Newman next Wednesday. The Jets defeated the Griffons on Jan. 12 by a score of 71-55 in Wichita, Kansas.
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