After being part of three straight games decided on the final possession, Northwest Missouri State's men played their way out of Saturday night's encounter with No. 17 Washburn well before that.
Bad stretches at the end of the first half and the start of the second half derailed Northwest's hopes of staying in the game with Washburn in an 80-67 loss at Lee Arena.
Washburn (15-5, 4-4) used separate 13-2 runs to build as much as a 23-point second half lead, the largest deficit the Bearcats have faced all year.
Despite a 45-point second half, an 18-19 effort at the foul line and a game total of 19 offensive rebounds, the Bearcats never even got within striking distance of Washburn.
Those things just prevented the Bearcats from getting beat even worse by the first MIAA team to expose them over 40 minutes for being without both Dillon Starzl and DeShaun Cooper.
This was Northwest's third straight road loss and second in a row.
It dropped the Bearcats (15-7, 8-5) from a second-place tie down to a three-way for fifth. Washburn moved into sole possession of third place.
"We just didn't have a lot of fight," said Northwest Missouri State head coach Ben McCollum who spent longer than usual addressing his team in the locker room after the game. "I didn't think we had a lot of energy at the start of the game and it's hard to turn that around. For 90 percent of our guys, it was probably the worst game we played all season."
Northwest's biggest issues were on the defensive end where the Bearcats normally thrive.
The league leader in scoring defense, Northwest allowed a team to reach 80 points on them for the first time all season. Washburn scored its final 59 points over the last five 25 minutes, including 46 in the second half.
The Ichabods shot 28-49 (57.1 percent) from the field, 5-10 from three and 19-25 at the foul line.
It marked the second straight game an opponent has made more than half of its shots against Northwest.
"If we play with some heart, I think we'll be okay," said McCollum. "We're having trouble guarding anyone. We've just got to find a way to be able to guard with smaller personnel. We're still kind of a work in progress as far as that goes. We got to play with more heart and more toughness. We don't have that high margin for error."
Washburn had four players in double-figures, including all three of its starting guards—Martin Mitchell (20 points), All-American Will McNeill (16 points) and Kyle Wiggins (10 points).
McNeill, who 6-12 from the field and 4-4 at the foul line, used an array of powerful drives and tough mid-range jumpers to reach his double-figure total. Mitchell, the game's high scorer, went 8-11 from the field and 4-6 from three.
Page 2 of 3 - Christian Ulsaker added 11 points off the bench, connecting on all seven free throw attempts.
"They're good offensively," said redshirt freshman reserve guard Kyler Erickson, a late-game revelation. "They were hitting shots. I think playing at home really helped them with that. Hopefully, it will be a different story at our place next week, but they were hitting and we weren't defending as well as we wanted."
Erickson's eye-opening second half play was easily the highlight of Northwest's night.
The last man off McCollum's bench all season, Erickson entered with 16 minutes left as part of an odd three-freshman lineup configuration and wound up as the team's leading scorer with 17 points.
A left-hander, Erickson made 4-7 shots and sank all seven free throw attempts that came largely as a result of hard drives to the basket.
"That was weird," said McCollum. "They couldn't guard him, could they? I know it was kind of in that time when you're passive defensively, but boy, he played well. That's how you get your chances. That's how I got my chance when I played."
Erickson's increased court time kept starter Tyler Funk planted on the bench for the entire second half.
Starting guard Bryston Williams, who was 0-4 from the field, sat out the final 16 minutes.
"He took everyone's minutes," said McCollum. "Whoever wasn't playing with energy, they were just out. We just played the guys that wanted to compete and play with heart."
Northwest forward Grant Cozad scored eight second half points to finish with 13, extending his double-figure streak to five straight games. DeAngelo Hailey was also in double-figures with 12 points.
Northwest scored just four points in the first eight-plus minutes and trailed 10-4, but battled back for a stretch.
A jumper by Lyle Harris and a three-ball from Hailey gave Northwest its first and only lead of 15-14.
It lasted all of one possession.
Washburn spread its lead back to six on a Mitchell three, but five straight from Cozad made it 21-20.
Mitchell hit a guarded three on Washburn's next possession from the top of the key that ignited an 11-0 surge.
McNeill scored four points in the last minute, including a jumper at the buzzer to make it 34-22 at the half.
The Ichabods began the second half with another 13-2 run to lead 47-24.
McCollum inserted his never-before used lineup towards the tail end of the run, and the group of Erickson, Alex Sullivan, Cozad, Conner Crooker and Harris managed to cut into Washburn's lead.
"They played with some heart and they played well," said McCollum. "They're hungry. When you don't play, you get hungry."
Page 3 of 3 - Northwest went to a gambling, speed-trap defense that caused some turnovers, but also led to easy baskets that prevented the Bearcats from ever making a serious charge. The closest they got before the last minute was 15 points.
Northwest closed the game on a 9-0 run to make the final score much more respectable.
"We're going to bounce back from this," said Erickson. "In the locker room, we addressed some issues, just playing hard, playing with more heart and play for each other. In the long run, this will eventually help us."