At the start of a three-game homestand, Northwest Missouri State's regular season conference title hopes took a major hit Wednesday night with a 64-60 loss to Fort Hays State.
Now on a season-high three-game losing streak, the Bearcats (15-8, 8-6) are tied with Lindenwood (15-7, 8-6) for sixth place and trail the two conference leaders—Fort Hays State and Central Missouri—by two games with four to play.
Likely needing to win out to even have a chance to claim a share of the league crown, Northwest welcomes in No. 25 Washburn Saturday at 3:30 p.m. to complete a home-and-home played a week apart.
The Bearcats lost the first meeting to Washburn 80-67 in Topeka, Kan. last Saturday and trailed by as many as 23 points in the second half.
Washburn (16-5, 9-4) beat Missouri Western 56-52 in overtime Wednesday night to stay a half-game back of first place. A second straight win over the Bearcats would give Washburn the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Northwest played without junior center Dillon Starzl in the first meeting with Washburn, but he returned from an MCL sprain Wednesday and led the Bearcats with 16 points on 6-9 shooting in 28 minutes.
Starzl's paint presence should enhance Northwest's chances of getting a series split with the Ichabods who used separate 13-2 runs to create the largest deficit Northwest has faced all year in the last meeting.
The Ichabods shot 57.1 percent from the field and put up the most amount points allowed by the Bearcats this season.
All three members of the Ichabod backcourt scored in double-figures that night led by Martin Mitchell with 20 points. All-American Will McNeill added 16.
The Mitchell-McNeill combo combined to shoot 14-23 from the field and Mitchell was 4-6 from three.
Northwest's leading scorer in the game was end-of-bench reserve Kyler Erickson with 17 points. Grant Cozad (13 points) and DeAngelo Hailey (12 points) were also in double-figures.
The Bearcats shot just 35.6 percent in the game, but played Washburn to a near second half stand-still with the help of 19 offensive rebounds and 20-22 shooting at the foul line.