Playing with a big lead proved problematic for No. 12 Northwest Missouri State in its MIAA opener against Lindenwood.
One game later, it wasn't an issue at all.
Northwest scored the first 10 points and never gave Nebraska-Kearney the slightest hope of a comeback in a 90-60 thrashing Saturday at Bearcat Arena.
Northwest took a 47-26 lead to the half and went up as many as 35 points in the second half, enabling them to begin clearing their bench with over 13 minutes left
The 30-point margin of victory was Northwest's largest of the season, surpassing earlier games against NAIA competition.
"We really broke it up into eight five minute scrimmages," said Northwest Missouri State head coach Ben McCollum. "Our objective was to win each five minute scrimmage after Lindenwood where we gave up an 18 point lead. I thought that we kind of let off the gas and thought it was more of a marathon than a bunch of sprints. I thought tonight we played with that sprinting intensity and were able to put a team away."
Normally just a great defensive team, the Bearcats (8-0, 2-0) excelled in all phases, putting together their most complete performance to date.
They shot 53 percent from the field, made 10 three's turned it over only six times, won the rebounding battle 37-27 and held Kearney 17 points below its season average.
"I thought we were executing," said McCollum. "I think we were running exactly what we need to run and we were moving. We were sharing the basketball. Everybody is buying into their roles slowly but surely."
All 11 players that suited up for Northwest saw action in the game and 10 of them scored.
Northwest's three main post players—6-8 junior center Dillon Starzl, 6-10 junior Kyle Schlake and 6-8 sophomore Grant Cozad—combined to go 15-19 from the field with 32 points.
They had their way against a much less imposing UNK front line that had no one over 6-7.
"I don't think there's a lot of teams in our league that really have the kind of size that can compare with us," said McCollum. "They're going to have to pressure us a little bit more."
Coming off the bench, Cozad led all scorers in the game with a career-high 17 points on 8-10 shooting.
He was coming off his worst game of the year against Lindenwood in which he shot 0-4 with zero points.
"Last game, my right hook wasn't falling," said Cozad. "It kind of got in my head that game and I was just thinking about it. This game, I came out and was just focusing on the follow through. I just kind of got my wrist through the shot and it went down today. My confidence built up to the game and just kept it going."
Senior guard DeAngelo Hailey fueled the outside attack by knocking down 4-6 three's and scoring 14 points.
It was his second straight game shooting better than 50 percent from the field.
Hailey came out on fire, hitting three, three's within the first seven minutes.
The first two completed Northwest's 10-0 run to start the game.
"He just works at it," said McCollum. "He gets in the gym consistently. He was in this morning getting shots up. He'll be in tomorrow. He'll be in the next day. Him and Alex (Sullivan). Both are in there more than any of our players getting shots."
Energetic reserve guard Tyler Funk had his best offensive game of the year, finishing with 12 points on 5-8 shooting. The fourth Bearcat in double-figures was Sullivan with 11 points on 4-8 shooting.
Freshman guard Conner Crooker just missed being Northwest's fifth player in double-figures with nine points. Schlake had eight points and Starzl tallied seven.
Point guard Matt Wallace, the only player not to score for Northwest, contributed a career-high 12 assists, four to Cozad.
UNK (3-5, 0-2) shot 48 percent in the second half to finish at 20-49 (40.8 percent).
Its three high scorers were Drew Sankey (14 points), Sami Bzai (13 points) and Mike Dentlinger (12 points).
The MIAA's fourth leading scorer, Jon Henderson, was held scoreless on 0-8 shooting. Athletic Arizona State transfer Pierre Newton went just 1-6 and scored five points.
Wallace defended Henderson most of the game, while Newton was guarded by Hailey and Bryston Williams.
"Matt Wallace, he's a pretty darn good defender," said McCollum. "We put him on the other's team best player every time. Alex Bazzell (Lindenwood's leading scorer) got 21 on him and he couldn't handle it. He wanted to make sure that guy didn't get off on us and he had zero, so that's good."
Wallace started his eighth consecutive game in place of Cooper who sat out again with knee tendinitis.
Cooper's return remains in question and doesn't sound like it's close to happening.
"If he's still limping around, I'm not going to play him and then burn that year," said McCollum. "First off, he's practiced a few times and he's not even close to what he was right now. He's not even close. He's got to continue to progress, continue to improve and hopefully he relaxes because he wants to come back so bad and he just needs to relax and let it heel and be 100 percent."
Minus its play-maker at the point, Northwest takes an undefeated record to the islands of Hawaii for two games over the weekend against St. Edward's and Harding.
By Joey Falkoff email@example.com
The Maryville Daily Forum - Maryville, MO
By Joey Falkoff firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated Dec. 9, 2012 @ 6:24 pm
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