As it has in every game of Tom Smith's final season as head coach, Missouri Western played nothing but zone against Northwest Missouri State Wednesday night.
Unlike the first matchup down in St. Joseph, the Bearcats exploited it in two susceptible areas—three-pointers and offensive rebounds—to earn a 59-52 win in front of a highly energetic crowd of 2,563 at Bearcat Arena.
Northwest senior guard Alex Sullivan tied a school record with eight three-pointers, and the Bearcats dominated the battle on the boards 38-25 (14-4 on the offensive glass). Northwest finished plus-12 on three's, plus-11 at the foul line and held an 18-3 edge in second chance points.
All of this made up for the Bearcats shooting only 34.7 percent to the Griffons 45.7 percent.
"We won the possession battle because 34 percent; that's pathetic," said Northwest Missouri State head coach Ben McCollum. "We did all the other things well."
Along with gaining a series split with the Griffons (9-14, 5-10), Northwest concluded a three-game homestand that began with a loss to Fort Hays with its second consecutive win.
The Bearcats (17-8, 10-6) are now in what is essentially a four-way tie for third in the MIAA with two games remaining against Nebraska-Kearney and Truman State.
"This was a very big win," said Sullivan who finished with 25 points and played all 40 minutes. "We always want to protect our homecourt. Losing to them last time, we had a chip on our shoulder so that came into play as well. Now that we got the win, it gives us a lot of energy going into the next week of practice."
Trailing by one at the half, Northwest took as much as an 11-point lead in the second half that dwindled to two with 4:27 left.
Western induced a rare Sullivan three-point mis-fire, but failed to grab the rebound that would've allowed them a possession to tie or take the lead. The Bearcats capitalized on the extra opportunity, with Tyler Funk assisting DeAngelo Hailey on a 15-foot jumper that was intended to be corner three.
This stopped a 9-0 Griffon run and gave the Bearcats a 50-46 lead.
"That killed their momentum," said McCollum. "That was a pretty big shot. He was supposed to stay in the corner. Tyler yelled at him as he passed it to stay in the corner and he catches and shoots while Tyler is yelling at him. That's probably what we'll need to do from now on."
Funk prevented the Griffons from answering by taking a charge on Cedric Clinkscales.
Dillon Starzl followed with a three-point play inside to give the Bearcats a 53-46 cushion with 2:28 left.
Northwest kept at least a five-point lead from then on, hitting six free throws in the final 1:41.
The Bearcats ended up with three times as many free throw attempts as Western and 11 more makes, going 16-24.
They were 9-26 from three, comprising over half of their 17 made field goals.
Sullivan hit all eight of his three's and scored all 25 points by the 9:53 mark of the second half.
He tied the record for three's in a game held by three others, including current Northwest assistant Austin Meyer.
"If I would've known that he tied the school record, I would've drawn up a play to make sure he beat that record, so I don't have coach Meyer strutting around my office anymore," joked McCollum.
Sullivan, who was 8-15 from distance, hadn't made more than four in a game since a Dec. 5 win over Lindenwood when he was 6-12.
In the previous meeting with Western in St. Joseph, he was only 3-11.
"I got a lot of confidence coming from the coaching staff and my teammates," said Sullivan. "They were able to find me in my spots. It took them a while to figure out I was a shooter, so I just kept shooting it when I was open."
The trio of Sullivan, Hailey and Starzl combined to make all but one of the team's field goals.
Hailey was just 5-18 and 1-8 from three, but scored 16 points and grabbed a season-high 11 rebounds.
Starzl added 10 points on six shot attempts. He was the focal point of Western's zone, allowing Sullivan and Hailey plenty of open looks.
"It's a tough in a zone when you don't match up to find people and they had trouble finding those shooters," said McCollum. "There were some good things we did. We stayed patient and we waited for Sully to shoot one of his 15 three's."
Northwest's defense permitted the Griffons 19 fewer points than they had in the last meeting.
Western reached second the media timeout on a 70-plus point pace, but scored only nine in the remaining 9:32 of the first half and 24 in the second half. The Griffons, who shot 54.2 percent in the first half, cooled to 8-22 (.364) in the second.
Clinkscales, a skilled 6-7 post, was Western's only double-figure scorer with 15 points. Dzenan Mrkaljevic and Kalvin Balque, who had double-figure games against Northwest last time, combined for only nine points.
Mrkaljevic was hit with a technical foul in the second half and sat the remainder of the game.
"I thought we guarded in the second half, in particular, pretty well," said McCollum. "A lot of Clinkscales shots were tough shots. You're not going to lose on those shots. What you lose on is those backdoor layups and stuff like that where we just weren't real locked in. We're usually able to hold people under their average fairly consistently."
Northwest trailed for most of the first half and got down as many six on a layup by Adarius Fulton that made it 26-20. Sullivan hit a three on Northwest's trip, and a third-chance follow by Starzl at the buzzer trimmed the deficit to 28-27 at the half.
Hailey opened the second half with a three and another by Sullivan gave Northwest a 33-30 lead it never relinquished.
Northwest scored seven straight to open up a double-digit lead for the first time.
It peaked at 48-37 on Sullivan's eighth three with 9:53 left.
By Joey Falkoff firstname.lastname@example.org
The Maryville Daily Forum - Maryville, MO
By Joey Falkoff email@example.com
Updated Feb. 21, 2013 @ 3:50 am
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