Diego Bernard UCM

Sophomore guard Diego Bernard scored 4 points in Northwest men's basketball's 81-47 win over Central Missouri Feb. 6 at Bearcat Arena. 

Trevor Hudgins doesn’t remember exactly what it felt like when Northwest men’s basketball lost for the first time in 47 games Dec. 7, falling 62-50 to Central Missouri, letting go of a winning streak that had stretched 21 months.

He said he felt sick sitting on Northwest’s bench in Warrensburg, Missouri, as the 12-point loss came to a close. Hudgins, the team’s starting sophomore guard, had fouled out of the contest moments earlier. The team had shot 36.5% from the field. The Bearcats, he said, played terribly.

“It didn’t feel good — I know that,” Hudgins said. “I was just, like, thinking to myself, ‘This isn’t us. Like, something went wrong this game and we’re definitely gonna fix it.’ I knew that. We were definitely gonna fix it.”

Hudgins found himself in a similar position at the end of Northwest’s second matchup with the Mules Feb. 6. He sat toward the end of the Bearcats’ bench again, watching the game’s final moments play out. But this time, as the clock wound down on Northwest’s 81-47 win over Central Missouri (9-12, 4-8 MIAA), things felt different. Things were fixed.

“We just wanted them to feel us this game,” Hudgins said. “We just wanted to go out there and really compete, show them who we are. Who we actually are, ’cause last time was just tragic. It was just tragic.”

In the aftermath of Northwest’s 34-point thrashing of Central Missouri, coach Ben McCollum described the matchup in Warrensburg, the team’s only loss in 2019, as “just one of those games.” The contest at Bearcat Arena Feb. 6 was perhaps the inverse of that night, then; just one of those games where the Bearcats (21-1, 11-1 MIAA) fire on all cylinders.

The Bearcats shot 60.5% from the field and 55.2% from beyond the arc. They had three starters — Hudgins, junior forward Ryan Hawkins and freshman guard Luke Waters — score in double-digits. They outrebounded the Mules 32-15. After allowing Central to take a 2-0 lead in the game’s second minute, they led for the last 38. They carried a 46-25 lead into halftime.

“I just thought we were really locked in,” McCollum said. “The first half, we kind of broke (the Mules) a little bit too, where they didn’t come out quite as hard in that second half.”

To go along with Northwest’s offensive execution was a degree of defensive prowess that bordered on ridiculous. In the early-going of the game’s second half, the Bearcats went on a 14-0 scoring run that lasted more than 12 minutes. The Mules didn’t score their first point of the second half until the half’s ninth minute.

Perhaps a part of the Bearcats’ high level of execution was a result of an increased focus on the matchup with Central. The game served as a rare opportunity for Northwest to avenge a loss. And despite McCollum downplaying the notion of a rivalry earlier in the week, Hudgins said the matchup came with an extra degree of motivation.

McCollum said the contest and the recent history between the two teams didn’t serve as an added incentive for Northwest. Hawkins, who led all scorers with 27 points, said the same. But the coach admitted that he’d used the film from Northwest’s loss to Central as a teaching tool and as a stimulant. He said he had reviewed the tape more times than he could count.

The Bearcats, Hudgins said, had the matchup with Central Missouri marked on their calendars.

“I think we were looking forward to it,” Hudgins said. “Coach Mac gave us a little push too. … We knew what we had to do. We knew that last time we played terrible, we didn’t do anything good last time. And we knew what mistakes we had to fix coming into this game.”

For Northwest, the game came with improved ball movement and a tweaked gameplan, one McCollum said was a result of Central’s defensive scheme. Northwest’s pair of sophomore guards kicked out to the wing with intense regularity in the matchup, leading the Bearcats to 16 made treys in the contest.

Hudgins, who tends to find much of his offensive success in the paint, took eight shots in the game, all of which were from 3-point range. He finished 6-of-8 from the field with 20 points. Sophomore guard Diego Bernard, who plays with a similar knack for points in the paint, took two shots from within the arc and scored 4 points.

The gameplan, of course, worked. And the result was a convincing win over a conference opponent. Though, in the aftermath of Northwest’s 13th-consecutive win in a row, McCollum denied any notion that his team had turned a corner and downplayed Northwest’s rivalry with the Mules. He said the Bearcats have found answers in the last few weeks, but they haven’t arrived at any destination. They’re still focused on the process like they always have been.

“Same old, same old,” McCollum said. “Just gotta keep going, keep improving.”

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