KANSAS CITY, Missouri - The No. 1-ranked Northwest Missouri State Bearcat men's basketball team claimed its fifth consecutive MIAA Tournament title with a 78-76 triumph over No. 22-ranked Missouri Southern at Municipal Auditorium.
Northwest (31-1 overall) won its 23rd straight game and 39th in a row on a neutral court with its third triumph this year over Missouri Southern. Missouri Southern is 23-8 on the year.
Northwest built a 15-point cushion in the opening half at 45-30 on the strength of 16 first-half points from both sophomore Trevor Hudgins and freshman Wes Dreamer. Northwest did not commit a turnover in the opening 20 minutes in taking a 45-33 lead to the locker room.
The Lions slowly chipped away at the Bearcat advantage in the second half. Northwest led 63-51 after a pair of free throws from sophomore Diego Bernard with 8:38 to play. MSSU went on an 11-2 run that put the Northwest lead at 65-62 with 4:50 on the clock.
Hudgins claimed Most Outstanding Player honors in the tournament after leading the squad with 31 points. Hudgins scored nine of Northwest's final 11 points after Missouri Southern tied the game at 67-67 with 3:07 to play.
Hudgins turned into the closer as he hit on an old-fashioned three-point play with 2:49 left to give Northwest a 70-67 lead. Following a bucket from MSSU's Cam Martin, Hudgins hit a floater in the lane that rattled in the rim but settled into the net for a 72-69 lead with 2:09 to play. Martin answered again as he matched Hudgins point-for-point with 31 in the contest. Martin's bucket left the Lions trailing 72-71 with 1:40 to play.
Hudgins hit a right-handed layup with 1:11 to play to extend the lead back to three. After a Bearcat defensive stop, Hudgins went to work and tallied his final points on the day with :22.8 to play that gave Northwest a 76-71 cushion. MSSU's Winston Dessesow tallied a layup with :07.6 to play that cut the lead back to three.
Bernard then caught the ensuing inbounds pass at half court, avoided an attempted foul by the Lions and laid in the Bearcats's final basket with 3.6 to play. Dessesow nailed a triple at the buzzer for the final two-point margin and Northwest claimed the MIAA title for the fifth straight season, 78-76.
Bernard capped the game with a double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Bernard also handed out six assists.
Dreamer finished with 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting that included 4-of-10 from three-point range.
Northwest will play host to the NCAA Central Region Tournament beginning Saturday at Bearcat Arena. The entire NCAA field and region opponents will be released on NCAA.com Sunday at 9:30 p.m. (CT).