Northwest men’s basketball wrapped up another successful trip to St. Joseph Nov. 9-10, earning two more victories over the weekend to move to 4-0 on the young season.
The No. 5 Bearcats moved past Upper Iowa 76-59 Nov. 9 before defeating Winona State 84-59 Nov. 10. Having played all four of its games in the St. Joseph Civic Arena this season, Northwest seems to have grown comfortable in the environment.
Heading into the season, the Bearcats didn’t expect to be as dominant as they have been. After graduating four starters last spring, Northwest has shown no signs of regression, winning each of its games over capable opponents.
“I like our record; that’s always good,” coach Ben McCollum said. “I like when we give effort. It’s not all the time, but we’re getting better with it. We have a tendency to go for about 25 minutes and turn it off for about 15. If we can get that up to 30 (minutes) this week, that would be fantastic.”
The Bearcats are not as self-starting in practice as they were a year ago, a trait that McCollum chalks up to a product of inexperience. Redshirt freshman guard Trevor Hudgins and sophomore forward Ryan Hawkins personify the youth movement driving the Bearcats’ season. Hudgins and Hawkins have become staples in Northwest’s lineup after combining for zero starts a season ago.
“I think that maturity piece, the mental, maturity piece is the big thing that we’re continuing to fight,” McCollum said. “(It’s) just that youthfulness that shows up every once-in-a-while. But with that, there’s some positives with the youthfulness, like the energy. It’s fun. There’s a lot of things that are fun with this group, so hopefully we can use that to our advantage.”
Hawkins has developed into somewhat of a source of energy for the Bearcats in practice and in games. The forward has provided a spark with both his presence and his shooting.
Hawkins has remained a consistent threat from three for the Bearcats, averaging 16.8 points per game on the season. Hawkins leads the MIAA in three-pointers made, having racked up 17 baskets from beyond the arc, shooting 51.5 percent from deep this season.
“You can always control your energy,” Hawkins said. “If you have a bad day in the classroom, you can still have a great day on the court. That’s what’s awesome about it: you can always control how you’re feeling.”
The youthful duo of Hudgins and Hawkins has emerged as offensive leaders in the early going of their first collegiate seasons as starters, with Hudgins leading the team in scoring while Hawkins provides complementary lights-out shooting.
Hudgins has averaged 23.5 points per game on the season while shooting 55.7 percent from the floor. The freshman guard scored 35 points and dished out 11 assists in Northwest’s win over Winona State, while Hawkins added 14 points, shooting 4-of-7 from three.
“I’m shooting it ‘cause I’m getting wide-open looks,” Hawkins said. “There’s nothing better than a wide-open shot.”
In some ways, the wave of youth for Northwest has left a void in leadership. The Bearcats graduated four seniors last spring, losing the core of the 2017 NCAA National Championship team. Their absence has left a vacancy in the leadership department.
Still, McCollum is not worried about the lack of a vocal leader with the season in its infancy.
“The leaders naturally lead, eventually,” McCollum said. “They say the cream always rises, and it does. We just let it happen. You either lead or you don’t.”
Armed with a dynamic young offense and two weekends worth of experience, Northwest will play host to Truman State Nov. 16. There will be an obscure and impressive streak on the line for the team: Northwest has won its last 19 games in the month of November, a streak that dates back to 2015.
“We’re excited to be back at home,” McCollum said. “We’re excited about this week and to see where we can go as a team.”
The team is still growing and developing its identity. The season’s first four games could bring only so much clarity, and in a way, Northwest’s direction is still unknown. The Bearcats are focused on getting better each day, rather than chasing any overarching goal.
“We’re only four games in, so we haven’t necessarily arrived,” McCollum said. “I don’t know where we’re going to go. I think the big thing for (the team) is not that I believed in them, it’s that they believed in themselves.”