No longer can the Bearcats' home court dominance this year be attributed just to weak opposition.
Coming off another tough road stretch, Northwest kicked off the second half of conference play with a 67-64 upset win over tri-conference leader Northeastern State Thursday night at Bearcat Arena.
The Bearcats connected on a season-high 12 three-pointers in the game—six from unlikely shooting star Monique Stevens— and needed every last one of them to hold off the hard-charging Riverhawks in the second half.
Down 18 points with less than 14 minutes left, NSU got as close as two and missed a tying three-pointer in the final seconds.
Northwest's Maggie Marnin secured the rebound, allowing the Bearcats (11-7, 5-5) to celebrate the signature win they'd come close to getting in their previous game at No. 16 Central Missouri.
Northeastern State (13-6, 8-3) had won five straight coming into play, beating the likes of No. 9 Washburn and Pittsburg State in the process.
"We haven't been able to take that big step," said Northwest Missouri State head coach Mark Kellogg. "This is that big step, that marquee win that we hadn't had. This goes on the resume and that's a big step in the right direction."
Stevens was Northwest's driving force throughout the night, connecting on 6-9 three's to finish with a career-high and game-high 20 points.
Her sixth one was the biggest, extending a five-point lead to 65-57 with 2:01 left.
Known more for her passing and defense, Stevens had made only 8-48 (.167) three's coming into the game.
"I know a lot of people are scouting me as a passer, and I've had a lot of assists in the last couple of games," said Stevens, a native of Australia. "I only took two shots at Central and coach said he was going to get us guards more looks. When I was open, I just shot the ball with confidence. I was feeling pretty good and I was ready to keep it going."
The Bearcats went 12-24 from three as a team and shot 50 percent in each half from the field.
Their 67-point total was the second-most scored against NSU all season, next to Lubbock Christian's 75 in the season opener.
NSU came in ranked third in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 52.6 points per game.
"They shot it really well," said NSU head coach Randy Gipson who was hired by Northwest in March before deciding to return to Tahlequah. "The big surprise was Stevens having a great shooting night. I didn't see that coming. They were ready to play. I could tell they were sharp in their movements. They played hard on both ends of the floor. They put a good game out there. I felt like we were a little tentative until we got way behind and we couldn't quite come all the way back."
Page 2 of 3 - Besides Stevens, Northwest had two other double-figure scorers in the game, sophomore Ashleigh Nelson (12 points) and Marnin (10 points, nine rebounds).
Freshman Tember Schechinger and Annie Mathews each had eight points, while Meridee Scott hit a pair of first half treys to finish with six.
The Riverhawks lived up to their three-point shooting reputation, going 10-19 from downtown.
Taylor Lewis hit a team-high four and finished with 18 points. Chelsey Stricklen (12 points) and Sarah Green (11 points) were also in double-figures.
Fontana Tate hit three, three's and finished with nine points.
The Riverhawks scored the opening five points of the game and took a 10-4 lead on a Lewis three less than five minutes in.
Their lead reached 15-8 on a jumper by Green with 11:28 left in the half.
Shortly after, the Bearcats caught fire.
After scoring just eight points in the first 10:20, the Bearcats registered 11 in the next 3:58 and closed the half on a 26-8 run.
It all started with a corner three from Scott.
Ashley Thayer followed with a three and then another from Scott gave Northwest a 17-15 lead.
The Riverhawks went back in front briefly by a point, but Stevens scored the next eight on two three's and a jumper to give Northwest a 27-20 lead.
Schechinger closed the first half with a three to make it 34-23 and opened the second half with another.
The Bearcat lead peaked at 18 points twice, the last time with 13:43 left.
That's when NSU began to make their run back at Northwest.
The Bearcats went scoreless for the next five minutes, and NSU ran off 13 straight to make it 53-48 with 8:23 left.
Stevens stopped the bleeding with a three off a second-chance opportunity, but NSU kept coming.
The Riverhawks got as close as 59-57 on a three by Lewis with 4:33 left.
NSU gave itself three chances to tie, but converted none of them.
The last of those resulted in a missed transition layup from Tosha Tyler that created a numbers advantage for Northwest at the other end.
The Bearcats spotted Nelson open for three and she swished it to give the Bearcats some needed breathing room, up 62-57.
After Lewis missed a three, Stevens knocked in her sixth to put Northwest up eight.
Back-to-back baskets from Lewis brought NSU within four. With 37 seconds left, Lewis banked in a three to make it a three-point game.
The Riverhawks received another chance to shoot for the tie when Scott missed the front end of a one-and-one with 31 seconds left.
Page 3 of 3 - Northwest played suffocating defense on the final possession, forcing Tate to take an off-balance three from the left wing that hit off the backboard and rimmed out.
Victory was assured.
"I think when we play as a team to our potential, I think we can really snag some wins against the higher teams," said Stevens. "We were really unlucky at Central. I think this is a really good boost for our team. We've got Emporia, Fort Hays and Washburn coming up. I think we can snag a couple more."