Luke Waters FH

Junior forward Luke Waters looks down at the basketball in preparation of one of his free throws during Northwest men’s basketball’s 64-49 win over Fort Hays State Dec. 11. Waters is 34-for-45 (75.6%) from the free throw line this season.

Success is nothing new to No. 9 Northwest men's basketball. The Bearcats are over halfway through their third straight season of defending a national title.

Even with the filled trophy case, sophomore forward Daniel Abreu made it clear what his takeaway was after the team’s 69-58 loss to No. 7 Central Oklahoma Jan. 12. At the Northwest Athletics’ media luncheon inside Maryville’s Pizza Ranch Jan. 17, the sophomore said it was a humbling experience.

“I would say, it doesn't matter who you are, what program you are, there’s always room to improve,” Abreu said. “I mean, we’ve had Trevor (Hudgins), we’ve had (Ryan Hawkins), but that doesn’t mean we’re entitled to any wins or anything. So, like, UCO, they just killed us, and it was embarrassing. Very embarrassing, definitely, for a program as successful as this one. It doesn’t really matter who you are, you’re definitely susceptible to any type of loss.”

The Bearcats (15-2, 8-2 MIAA) were able to bounce back a bit with a 74-57 win over Newman (6-11, 2-9 MIAA) Jan. 14. Abreu scored 11 points in his seventh game of the season with double-digit points.

Coach Ben McCollum said the game against the Jets was too small of a sample size to see how the team is going to respond after the loss to the Bronchos. He said he will be able to truly tell in practice.

“I think how we respond in practice — if we can really address what happened down there, what happens in practice and what happens consistently — if we can address that and improve it, I think it’s going to help us quite a bit,” McCollum said.

Now, Northwest will have a chance to continue to build itself back up with games against Central Missouri (8-9, 4-7 MIAA) Jan. 19 and Lincoln (10-4, 6-4 MIAA). After two games on the road, the Bearcats will be back in Bearcat Arena for a pair of games. McCollum said he expects challenges from both teams.

“Central’s, defensively, one of the best, if not the best in the conference,” McCollum. “I mean, they’re, year in and year out, elite defensively.”

The Mules are No. 6 in the MIAA in points allowed per game, giving up 64.4. The Bearcats are No. 3 in the conference, allowing just 60.9 points per contest.

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises in the conference over halfway through the season is Lincoln. After finishing the 2021-22 campaign with a record of 4-23, the Blue Tigers hired former Central Florida assistant coach Jimmy Drew to take over the program in April.

“They’re exponentially better than they were last year,” McCollum said. “I think they’re tough, they’re physical, they get after rebounds, they defend and they play hard.”

Just one season ago, Lincoln was No. 13 in the MIAA in points per game (65.9) and last in the conference in points allowed (77.3). After 14 games, the Blue Tigers score 72.9 points per contest, which is good enough for No. 7 in the MIAA, while only giving up 62.9 points — No. 4 in the conference.

“I kind of expect the same I do with every team, that they’re going to give us their best because of the name we have around us,” Abreu said of the Mules and Blue Tigers. “We just got to go into every game thinking like, ‘We have to beat these guys.’ They’re gonna give us their best, and we got to give them our best.”

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