Against Central Missouri, Dec. 3 in Bearcat Arena, Northwest men’s basketball held a 12-point lead at halftime. The Bearcats watched that lead dwindle away, with Central narrowing the gap to as few as a handful late in the game.
The Bearcats eventually won, 74-67.
Northwest coach Ben McCollum couldn’t escape the thought of the Bearcats’ lead dissipating in his press conference following the matchup with the Mules.
“We need to be better if we’re going to win games,” McCollum said after the game Dec. 3. “We just need to be better. We’ll get there.”
Against Lincoln, Dec. 5 in Bearcat Arena, Northwest men’s basketball held a 14-point lead at halftime. The Bearcats watched their lead grow to as large as 32 with 6:47 left in the game.
The Bearcats eventually won, 84-54.
“I still feel like we kinda did that a little bit,” Northwest senior forward Ryan Hawkins said about Northwest easing up in the second half.
“We did better,” McCollum said. “I was pleased with the guys’ effort.”
And as much as Northwest (3-0) ended up winning by, Hawkins was moreover worried about the lull the Bearcats had around the 10-minute mark of the second half, referring to when their lead shrunk to 23.
Hawkins attributed that to the same thing which he said allowed Central to get back into the game two days prior.
“Our offense not setting our defense up for success,” Hawkins said. “We have had more turnovers the first three games this year than I think I can ever remember having while being here. So, we’ve gotta clean that up a little bit. … We’re still a youthful, young, energetic team that just wants to get it and go, so we’ll get that with the maturity aspect of it.”
Northwest held an 18-10 lead with 10:37 left in the first half. Exactly 42 seconds later, a media timeout halted a 5-0 run courtesy of Lincoln, one that brought the Blue Tigers (2-2) to within three of the Bearcats.
The Bearcats went on a 16-2 run of their own to gain a lead as large as 17, which aided them to their double-digit lead at the break.
“I thought we calmed down. I don’t think our rhythm is where it needs to be,” McCollum said. “I think we’re trying to score so quick, almost like I always tell them, ‘It’s almost like we’re trying to score 100 points in one minute.’ I think we did a better job of working for the offense and not just casting shots.”
The Bearcats’ surge in the first half, along with the eventual 30-point victory, was in part due to Hawkins’ breakout performance.
In the first game of the season Nov. 21 against Rogers State, an 86-78 win, Hawkins scored 12 points while shooting 3-for-8, including no makes on five attempts from deep.
Against Central, he had a game-high 25 points while shooting 9-for-18 and 4-for-10 from three.
The reigning MIAA Defensive Player of the Year hung 34 on the Blue Tigers, including 19 in the first half, for another game-high.
It was his highest total since the Bearcats traveled to Wichita, Kansas, to face Newman Jan. 30 (36).
“Trevor and Diego just — the way they come off ball-screens, they draw three every time, so someone’s gonna be open,” Hawkins said. “Today, it just kinda happened to be me open.”
At the 18:38 mark of the second half, his first shot since halftime, he nailed a three from the corner in front of Northwest’s bench, one that pushed him by Connor Crooker for No. 5 on the program’s all-time list for career threes made (206).
“I know I’ll never catch Zach Schneider,” Hawkins said about the former Bearcat, now assistant coach, who is No. 1 in program history with 370 made 3-pointers. “There’s not enough extra years of eligibility for that to happen.”
McCollum said Hawkins’ success from deep stems from his success in the post, which created a matchup that didn’t favor Lincoln, or really any other team the Bearcats face this season, he said.
“Obviously, his ability to shoot really separates him,” McCollum said.
The Bearcats, both McCollum and Hawkins reiterated in their individual press conferences, aren’t where they’d like to be. With time dwindling down on the clock in Bearcat Arena, Hawkins wasn’t where he wanted to be either.
With 7:00 left in the game, freshman forward Daniel Abreu replaced Hawkins, who spent the rest of the game on the bench.
It was the first time in eight games that Hawkins didn’t play more than the 33 minutes he did tonight, dating back to a matchup last season with Pitt State (Feb. 22).
“I’d rather play 40 minutes, personally,” Hawkins said. “I understand when you only have to play 30-something that you’ve got a pretty big lead, but playing 40 — you’re out there to play basketball. … It’s still fun. It gets the adrenaline running and you get to play basketball.”
Hawkins will get another chance to add to his total of 3-pointers made, and continue his scoring-streak, when the No. 1 Bearcats travel Dec. 12 to St. Joseph, Missouri, and face Missouri Western in a battle of the unbeaten.