MARYVILLE, Mo. — Coming off its first MIAA conference win of the season, Northwest Missouri State was determined not to be beaten by one of the best teams in the country Saturday.
Despite a 61-46 loss to No. 3-ranked Fort Hays State in front of 629 fans at Bearcat Arena, it’s fair to say the Tigers didn’t beat the Bearcats. Northwest beat itself.
“We kind of count on those extra possessions every game,” Fort Hays coach Tony Hobson said. “Our turnover margin is big for the year, and we do get quite a few offensive rebounds for no bigger than we are. But when you shoot the ball poorly like we do on some nights, you’ve got to have those.”
“We were right there the whole time and I feel like we gave one away,” Northwest interim coach Buck Scheel added.
The Bearcats (3-16, 1-12 MIAA) outplayed Fort Hays (17-2, 11-2) in nearly every facet of the game, but were undone by 30 turnovers and 15 offensive rebounds that gave the Tigers 45 extra chances to score. Despite all those miscues, Northwest very nearly took the game to the wire.
“Whether you’re playing against one of the top teams in the country or not, you’re going to have a tough time winning ballgames when you give them that many more opportunities,” Scheel said.
Much like in Thursday’s win over Nebraska-Kearney, the Bearcats used defensive intensity and positioning to frustrate Fort Hays. The Tigers made only 32 percent (20-for-62) of their field-goal attempts and scored 27 points in an extremely defensive first half.
Part of it may have been a letdown following the Tigers’ disappointing loss to No. 5-ranked Missouri Western on Thursday – a game Fort Hays led by 18 at halftime – but Northwest was prepared to take full advantage.
“I was worried about that, but I thought our kids were ready to play and we played reasonably well,” Hobson said. “I think Northwest is playing so much better than they were earlier in the season and they will win some conference games.”
Facing its largest deficit of the first half at 13-7 with 2 minutes left in the opening quarter, Northwest closed the frame on a 5-0 spurt. Senior guard Tember Schechinger started the run with an and-one putback, and sophomore forward Tanya Meyer cut the Tigers’ lead to one with a 3-pointer on the next possession.
The momentum carried over into the second, when a Schechinger layup gave the Bearcats a brief 14-13 advantage before Fort Hays jumped back in front and carried a 27-23 lead into halftime.
The third quarter brought more of the same, as Northwest stayed close with a slew of defensive stops to gain a 12-11 edge in the frame and cut the deficit to three heading to the fourth.
“I think our defense was there,” said Schechinger, who finished with team highs of 13 points and 11 rebounds. “We struggled offensively. We couldn’t get in that flow.”
The offensive woes became even more apparent as the Tigers ramped up the pressure to start the final frame. Northwest turned the ball over six times in the opening 4 minutes of the fourth – on the way to 12 in the quarter – as Fort Hays pulled away.
The Tigers pieced together a 7-0 run to build a 10-point advantage that eventually stretched to 15 with 2:33 left.
“A lot of those turnovers weren’t because of their pressure on defense,” Meyer said. “It was just us being lackadaisical on offense.”
Despite sitting out parts of the third and fourth quarter due to foul trouble, Jill Faxon led the Tigers with 15 points. Paige Lunsford finished close behind with 14, and Elle Stein came off the bench to grab 8 rebounds – four of them offensive.
Northwest shot 41 percent (16 of 39) from the field and gained a slight edge in total rebounds, 37 to 33.