Northwest Missouri State looked every bit the part of the No. 1 men’s basketball team in NCAA Division II.
The Bearcats, with Trevor Hudgins, Ryan Hawkins and Luke Waters combining for 73 points, shot 65 percent in the second half and pulled away from No. 14 Missouri Southern 96-75 before 2,157 fans on Thursday night inside the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center on Robert Corn Court.
The Bearcats (23-1, 13-1 MIAA) opened a two-game lead over the second-place Lions (18-5, 11-3) in the league standings and handed the Lions their second straight home loss.
Northwest Missouri, ahead 47-39 at halftime, made 17-of-26 shots in the final 20 minutes, 6-of-10 3-pointers and 9-of-11 free throws. The Bearcats hit 59 percent for the game overall and 50 percent (13-of-26) from the arc.
The Lions actually shot a higher percentage — 61 percent on 30-of-54 accuracy, including 8-of-22 from distance. But the Bearcats owned big advantages of 20-2 in points off turnovers and 13-3 on second-chance points. The Lions committed 11 turnovers to the Bearcats’ five, and Northwest Missouri outrebounded the Lions 30-20, including 11-6 off the offensive glass.
"It's hard when you have five guys who can shoot it at all times," Lions junior center Cam Martin said. "You can't leave them open at any time. You have to talk a bunch, and we had a few mental mistakes when we didn't talk on ball screens and they got wide-open shots. And they hit big shots."
"It just comes down to getting stops," Lions senior guard Elyjah Clark said. "When you have two really offensive-heavy teams, it comes down to who gets the most stops. And today they were able to get more stops than we did.
"Coming into the game, we knew we had to take care of the ball and not give them second-chance points. When you're playing a good team like that, you really have to value the ball. Those turnovers and second-chance points hurt. ... When you play hard defense for 30 seconds and they get an offensive rebound, it's tough because you have to go do it again. When you play really efficient teams like that, you can't give them second chances to score."
Hudgins, 6-foot sophomore guard, poured in 33 points — 14 above his season average and three below his career high set in the previous game against Lincoln — to lead the Bearcats. He made 10-of-19 field goals, 7-of-13 treys and 6-of-7 free throws in 40 minutes.
Hawkins, 6-7 junior, scored 21 points — one below his league-leading average — and had 10 rebounds, and redshirt freshman Luke Waters netted a career-best 19 points, almost tripling his 7.2 average.
"It's like it's the same freakin' guy out there," Lions coach Jeff Boschee said. "They can all shoot the ball. They can all go down and post. The two little guards, Diego (Bernard) and Trevor, they are so good. They are a pretty good team."
Martin led the Lions with 29 points — 19 in the second half — and had seven rebounds. The league’s No. 2 scorer at 22.0 points per game, he was 12-of-17 from the floor and 4-of-5 at the line.
"I think I was worried more about not getting quick fouls early," Martin said. "In the second half I knew I had only one foul, so I could be more aggressive."
Clark tallied 18 points and five assists, going 7-of-10 from the field, 3-of-5 from the arc and 1-of-1 at the foul line. Lambert scored 14 points, hitting 5-of-12 fielders and both free throws.
The Lions cut their halftime deficit to 54-51 on Martin’s layin with 15 minutes left. But the Bearcats ran off 10 unanswered points in a 2 1/2-minute stretch for a 13-point lead with 12:15 to play, and they outscored the Lions 13-3 in the final 2:47.
The Lions entertain Missouri Western and the Bearcats visit Pittsburg State on Saturday afternoon. The Lions and Bearcats play again next Thursday night in Maryville.
"We have to move on," Boschee said. "We have to understand, too, this wasn't a 21-point game. It was closer than that. I thought we played hard. We just had way too many miscues defensively."