Northwest Missouri State's women showed the kind of grit, persistence and shot-making ability Saturday that had been missing in its previous two road losses at Missouri Southern and Pittsburg State.
It almost allowed the Bearcats to pick up their first MIAA road win over a more talented, quicker and deeper Missouri Western team, but not quite.
After turning a seven-point second half deficit into a nine-point lead, Missouri Western held off a feverish Northwest comeback in the final two minutes led by an unconscious Ashleigh Nelson to win 68-66 at Looney Fieldhouse.
Northwest point guard Monique Stevens came up well short on a potential game-tying shot from the paint with under 20 seconds left, and the Bearcats never got another chance to tie or go in front.
Northwest fell to 8-5 overall, 2-3 in the MIAA and completed a winless three-game road stretch to start 2013. Western moved to 11-3 overall and 4-2 in the MIAA, winning its third in a row.
"It's a step forward," said Northwest first-year head coach Mark Kellogg. "But it's still not the result we want. The goal is to win basketball games and get better by winning. We get better by losing, yes, but I'm getting tired of losing. I just told them I haven't lost three straight in about six years, so I don't like this feeling. I can't allow them to get comfortable in that feeling."
Held to an average of 51 points on 32 percent shooting at Southern and Pitt, the Bearcats had by far their best offensive showing of the new year with 66 points on 21-49 (.429) shooting and 9-19 (.474) from three.
They also out-rebounded Western 35-30 after getting killed on the boards the last two games.
Nelson helped Northwest's offensive totals greatly, scoring a career-high 26 points on 8-12 shooting and 6-8 from three. She made all five of her three-point tries and scored 21 points in the second half.
"This is my high scoring game, but it's pretty painful," said Nelson. "This is our biggest rival. It sucks coming to their place and getting beat in a tough match."
Sophomore center Maggie Marnin was the only other Bearcat in double-figures with 14 points. She hit a big three late—her first of the year—to pull the Bearcats within one, but also missed three point-blank shots in the final five minutes.
Reserve guard Ashley Thayer hit a pair of first half three's and finished with eight points. Stevens added seven and was 5-7 at the foul line.
Western's Heather Howard added another double-double to her season total with 16 points and 12 rebounds. She had 11 points and eight rebounds in the second half.
Former Northwest guard Alicia Bell totaled 13 points and five rebounds, hitting 5-6 free throws. Speedy point guard Jaquitta Dever scored all 11 of her points in the second half on 5-6 shooting. Lanicia Lawrence and Sharniece Lewis each had nine points.
Western managed only 23 first half points, but nearly doubled that total in the second half with 45 on 15-30 shooting and 12-17 at the foul line.
This was due in part to the Griffons ability to create easy offense from increased pressure on defense.
Western forced 11 second half turnovers that resulted in 17 points. The Bearcats committed 22 overall.
"First half, we were playing too fast," said Western first-year head coach Rob Edmisson. "We were too impatient against their zone. We shot quick. We weren't hitting shots and we weren't rebounding. The game is too slow when it's 28-23, so we talked at halftime about changing up our press a little bit. We started jumping and got them to throw the ball away a little bit. We knew we'd give up some points, but we wanted to get the tempo up and down because it was too slow."
After falling behind 5-0 early, Northwest scored the next six points and never trailed the rest of the half.
Thayer's second three gave the Bearcats a 28-23 halftime lead.
The Bearcats extended to a seven-point lead first on a bank shot by Annie Mathews and again on a three-point play by Nelson with 16:20 left.
Over the next 13:12, Western outscored Northwest 38-22 to build a nine-point lead.
Five straight from Howard and a three-point play by KC Clouser pulled the Griffons even at 33. It was tied twice more at 38 and 40 before the Griffons scored seven straight to lead 47-40 with 9:51 left.
A three-point play by Howard to begin the run put the Griffons in front to stay.
"Second half, we didn't come out the way we wanted," said Nelson. "They kind of threw the first punches coming out of the second half. We stopped it a little bit, but we took too long to stop the bleeding."
Northwest cut an eight point deficit down to four twice, but an easy miss by Marnin prevented the Bearcats from inching closer.
Four free throws by Bell worked Western's lead back up to 61-53.
Moments later, Lawrence shot a corner three that somehow banked in to make it 64-55 with 3:08 left.
At the time, this appeared to be a dagger.
"That was ridiculous," said Kellogg. "I don't even know what part of the backboard that hit. That's impossible."
With Western's lead still at nine and under two minutes left , Northwest swiftly got back in it with seven straight points in a 43 second span.
It all started with two Nelson free throws. Then Scott stole the inbounding pass and scored to make it 64-59 with 1:26 left. Nelson knocked down a deep three with 43 seconds left that made it 67-65.
Right after, Lawrence missed two free throws that gave the Bearcats the ball back down two.
Following a timeout, Northwest freshman Tember Schechinger threw the inbound pass from halfcourt away. Dever collected the steal and turned it into a layup to give the Griffons a 66-62 lead.
"Obviously, a terrible pass and a bad decision," said Kellogg. "But we're supposed to have a post up there sealing. She was nowhere to be found. It's one of those simple things we talk about late in the game. Maybe, there was too much going on for us."
Marnin's rare three pulled the Bearcats back within a point at 66-65 with 24 seconds left.
After Bell split a pair of free throws, Northwest got the ball back again down by two.
This time, Stevens penetrated down the left side of the lane, looking to pitch it out to an open shooter.
The Griffons stayed glued to Nelson and others, forcing a surprised Stevens to wheel into the lane and put up a one-handed shot that missed short.
"We always tell them to think score first and pass second," said Kellogg. "I asked her and she said she was thinking pass first. You could tell because she hesitated. She had space at three feet."
Lawrence got the rebound and was fouled with three seconds left. She made the first and missed the second for a 68-65 lead.
Western mistakenly fouled Nelson on the rebound, sending her to the line with 1.6 seconds left.
She made the first and tried to miss the second intentionally, but was called for a lane violation.
After a lengthy delay to restore the game clock to 1.6 seconds, Western ran out the remaining time with a baseball pass from Howard that was hauled in by Lawrence past mid-court.
"I'm proud we answered back and gave ourselves some chances, then our execution wasn't obviously where it needed to be late in the game," said Kellogg.
By Joey Falkoff email@example.com
The Maryville Daily Forum - Maryville, MO
By Joey Falkoff firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated Jan. 13, 2013 @ 7:48 pm
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