After ending the regular season with a 21-20 loss to Missouri Western that cost the Bearcats the MIAA title, Northwest Missouri State head coach Adam Dorrel expressed confidence in his team's ability to put that devastating result behind them and look forward to the playoffs.
Seeded fourth in Super Region 3, Northwest Missouri State (9-2, 8-2) matches up against fifth-seeded Harding (Ark.) in the first round at noon Saturday at Bearcat Stadium.
Northwest is approaching its latest playoff endeavor as a chance to start fresh.
"When you get to the playoffs and there's 24 teams left, everybody resets," said Dorrel. "In our eyes, everybody is 0-0."
Northwest learned of its playoff assignment Sunday while viewing the selection show at Bearcat Stadium.
Expected to be on the road for the duration of the playoffs, Northwest ended up with a first round home game for the first time in Dorrel's two-year tenure.
This, he said, provided "a shot in the arm" for his team, especially the seniors.
"To see that they're going to have a chance to play at home again, I really think that's going to help motivate us and get us going," said Dorrel. "It's neat to see our kids rebound from Saturday and Sunday, get back in the video room and the weight room and get going."
History almost guarantees the Bearcats will bring the proper mindset into their matchup with Harding.
Northwest has won 14 straight games following a loss in the same season, a streak that dates back to 2001 when Mel Tjeerdsma was still less than half-way through his 17-year tenure as head coach.
In Dorrel's two years as head coach, the Bearcats are 3-0 in games right after a loss.
Earlier this year, the Bearcats rebounded from a 31-21 loss to Central Missouri in week two with a 48-10 win over Fort Hays State.
This began an eight-game win streak that ended with the one-point loss to Western—Northwest's first in a regular season finale since 2004.
"Confidence in any athletic endeavor is a fragile thing," said Dorrel. "I'm confident our kids will get back out there and get going because we have great seniors. You have to gauge that not just off one incident. You have to gauge that off the entire year. We were pretty level-headed after we lost in Warrensburg and went on a pretty good streak. I'm very confident that they're going to play hard Saturday and we're going to rebound and get a 'W.' They're a focused group. It's not going to be an easy game and we know that."
Penalties a problem
Heading into the playoffs, one of Northwest's most pressing concerns is penalties.
Page 2 of 3 - The Bearcats were docked 91 yards on 10 penalties in Saturday's loss to Western, and one of those—an offensive pass interference call on Tyler Shaw—wrecked the Bearcats chances of kicking a game-winning field goal in the last minute.
Northwest's 91 penalty yards were the second-most this year behind the 98 they racked up against Fort Hays State.
It's the third instance in the last four games in which the Bearcats have been assessed at least 80 yards in penalties.
Northwest drew 11 penalties for 86 yards against Washburn and eight for 80 yards against Missouri Southern.
"It's something I'm going to address (Tuesday)," said Dorrel. "It's just hard when you start talking about holding. What's holding one week may not be holding the next week. That's a tough call. We're going to look to fix that with some of our kids, some of our hand placements. The challenge there is you got to be careful not to take away your kids aggressiveness."
Cooper on the mend
Northwest Missouri State is likely to go through much of its non-conference slate without All-MIAA point DeShaun Cooper on the floor.
Cooper missed the team's 86-65 season opening win over Graceland due to injury and estimates it will be "two-three" weeks before he can make his season debut.
Cooper is dealing with knee tendinitis issues that surfaced during preseason practices, forcing Northwest to re-tool its lineup.
"Whenever I feel comfortable, whenever I'm able to do what I have to do to get my teammates involved (is when I'll be back)," said Cooper. "I don't want to come back with low confidence or low self-esteem because I feel like that won't do anything but make the injury worse or injure another part of my body. I want to make sure I have all my confidence. I would say two to three weeks from now."
Cooper started Northwest Missouri State's exhibition loss to Missouri, but took himself out after only 19 minutes of action. He was 1-7 from the field and scored just three points.
"It was painful and that's why I had to do what I had to do to get it taken care of, so I can get back to the old me," said Cooper.
Cooper's time table means he should be back on the floor in time for the team's conference opener against Lindenwood Dec. 5.
However, he could miss as many as five more games leading up to that point.
Northwest did well in his absence against Graceland, and Cooper thinks that can continue.
"I think they'll work together as a family, and once we add all our pieces together that's when we'll start developing and taking off to where we actually need to be," said Cooper. "For now, the team is playing great. We're moving the ball and getting inside and playing defense. If we keep doing that, we'll maintain real well."
Page 3 of 3 - Sullivan stepping up
In Northwest Missouri State's first two games this year, senior Alex Sullivan has played like one of the MIAA's elite guards.
Sullivan scored a team-high 19 points in the exhibition loss to Missouri and followed up by hitting seven three's and scoring a career-high 28 points against Graceland in only 26 minutes.
Sullivan was 7-11 from downtown and made 10-17 field goal attempts Sunday.
He was Northwest's most proficient three-pointer shooter last year at 47.4 percent, but a lack of opportunities limited him to four double-digit scoring games and a 4.6 per game average.
At this point, Sullivan's offensive numbers appear ready to spike in a big way.
"He works on it all the time," said Northwest Missouri State head coach Ben McCollum. "He's probably in the gym more than any of our kids getting shots. I think that's the results of the process. He got hot and our guys continued to find him and he continued to find openings. That's helped him score."