(KANSAS CITY, Mo.)— The No. 1-ranked Northwest Missouri State University men's basketball team advanced to the program's 14th MIAA Tournament championship game with an 86-69 victory over the Lincoln University Blue Tigers on Saturday at Municipal Auditorium.
"They were ready to go," Northwest head coach Ben McCollum said. "I think the understanding of what postseason is about. I think it's difficult for, and we're young still, that's the other piece that's there. They haven't played in the post season. So now, I think they are very very aware."
Northwest matched the program’s best ever start to a season with victory No. 31. The 1929-30 Bearcats finished their season at 31-0 under head coach Henry Iba.
All five Northwest starters scored in double figures with senior Joey Witthus (23) and freshman Diego Bernard (21) leading the way.
"I think it showed a lot of maturity with us. Even though we made some mistakes here and there and stuff, just sticking with it, being patient and moving the ball around on offense—which got us in a better rythym," Wittus said.
It’s the first time since Jan. 31 against Pittsburg State that Northwest had five players reach double figures. Redshirt freshman Trevor Hudgins scored 17 points, handed out seven assists and tallied five steals.
Lincoln (18-12 overall) scored the game’s first six points only to see Northwest come roaring back with a 27-2 run. Northwest buried four of its first five three-point attempts and turned a 6-0 deficit into a 27-8 lead with 12:37 left in the opening half.
The Bearcats led by as many as 22 in the opening 20 minutes at 43-21 with 1:16 left before halftime. Northwest would lead 43-26 at the break.
Northwest extended the lead back to 22 points in the second half at 60-38 on a three-pointer from sophomore Ryan Hawkins with 14:36 to play in the game. Lincoln would pull to within 14 points on two occasions in the second half, but could get no closer.
Northwest shot 50.0 percent from the field, while limiting Lincoln to 43.9 percent shooting. Northwest out-rebounded Lincoln, 38-31.
Northwest will take on the winner of the Washburn-Pittsburg State game in Sunday’s MIAA Tournament championship game. Tip is set for 1 p.m. at Municipal Auditorium.