Toughness is something that Northwest men’s basketball coach Ben McCollum made sure to touch on after the Bearcats’ two-hour practice on Tuesday, Jan. 12.
He made note of the toughness of Wes Dreamer, the sophomore forward that stepped into the starting lineup this season after Ryan Welty’s departure, and how that one trait has taken his game to the next level.
He made note of the toughness regarding the Bearcats’ upcoming opponents on the road in Fort Hays State and Nebraska-Kearney.
After their first loss of the season, an 84-82 defeat from Washburn Jan. 7, McCollum made sure to touch on the fact that his team wasn’t tough and competitive.
They rebounded from that with a 92-71 win over Emporia State Jan. 9 in Bearcat Arena, and he’s hoping a performance like that carries over into this week.
“I just want to perform and compete right away,” McCollum said. “I didn’t like the way we competed that Thursday, and I don’t want to see that again. I want us to compete on the road, play with energy, enthusiasm and I want everybody to do that right from the start.”
Northwest junior guard Trevor Hudgins thinks the Washburn game served as a wake-up call for the Bearcats, and they realized that at practice on Friday, which McCollum said was more of a meeting than anything.
“We realized that we’re not immortal, pretty much, like we can be beat,” Hudgins said. “We just understood why we lost, because we were playing not to lose, not to win. I feel like the next day after the loss, we all communicate with each other, got our flow back, our mentality back and we’re going to turn everything up to 100 from now on.”
The No. 3 Bearcats (6-1) will have a chance to do that Jan. 14 against the Tigers (3-6) in Hays, Kansas.
Northwest has had success on the road, dating back to last season, with 10 consecutive wins in opposing gyms. That streak is good enough for the second-best in Division II (Valdosta State, 11) and tied for eighth-best across all levels of the NCAA (Swarthmore — Division III, 16).
The Tigers have been spotty to this point in the season, in which they started with three straight losses, followed those by winning three consecutive games and have lost three in a row prior to the matchup with Northwest.
Amid their brief win streak, Hays played an exhibition against Kansas State Dec. 8 and won, 81-68.
The Bearcats aren’t blind to the fact that Hays has struggled to win in most games this year, but they’re not ignoring the Tigers’ triumphs go unnoticed either.
“I mean they beat Kansas State, so,” Hudgins said. “You know they can play, you know they can shoot. … They do everything right, so we’ve gotta focus on them on Thursday and come out strong.”
“They’ll be tough,” McCollum said about the Tigers. “We need to make sure that we’re fully prepared and fully ready.
And after the Bearcats square off with Hays, they’ll head more than two hours north to prepare for a Jan. 16 date with Nebraska-Kearney (3-6).
The Lopers will host No. 16 Missouri Western Jan. 7, and have less than 48 hours to prepare for Northwest, another frontrunner for the MIAA. Regardless of that, McCollum isn’t expecting anything to come easy for his team. He isn’t expecting anything he hasn’t seen before, either.
“They’re the same team,” McCollum said. “They’re tough, well-coached, keep the ball in front of them. Offensively, they’re going to run their stuff and grind it out, it’ll be a tough place to play as well.”
McCollum is expecting both places to be challenges for the Bearcats this week, as they’ll be trying to keep that road streak alive. Those challenges, McCollum said, are ones the Bearcats welcome.
The Bearcats’ success away from Maryville isn’t due to a different approach compared to home games, McCollum said. Instead, McCollum said, it’s focusing on the consistency that he’s preached to get the program to where it currently is.
“I don’t think it’s any different than being at home,” McCollum said. “It’s just one of those things that if you’re good, you’re able to win, regardless of where it’s at.”
Hudgins said the players are embracing that challenge as well, especially after the loss to Washburn.
The last time they lost, the Bearcats won 28 straight games. That streak ended Jan. 7 in Bearcat Arena, but one Hudgins and company are hoping to amass going forward. They’ll be ready to go this week, Hudgins said, and ready to come out swinging.
“It just puts our back against the wall,” Hudgins said about playing in another team’s gym. “I feel like everyone on this team has a chip on their shoulder. … I just feel like, you know, our backs are against the ropes, and we like to fight, so that’s what we’re going to do.”