ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — Northwest men’s basketball dominated Missouri Western in an 87-64 victory for the Bearcats on a freezing night in St. Joseph Jan. 19.
The Bearcats (17-0, 7-0 MIAA) played well in every facet of the game against Western, shooting just under 60 percent in the contest while holding the rival Griffons to 43.4 percent from the field.
Playing in his first MIAA matchup in his hometown, freshman guard Diego Bernard, an alumnus of St. Joseph-Lafayette, tallied 11 points coupled with two steals. His continued dynamic play, along with Northwest’s 23-point victory, highlighted Bernard’s triumphant return to St. Joseph.
“It felt good,” Bernard said. “We had a good gameplan. It was a good environment and we just executed on offense.”
Bernard and fellow freshmen Trevor Hudgins and Xavier Rhodes have continued to be a bright spot in Northwest’s flawless season thus far. Hudgins led the Bearcats with 24 points on the night while Rhodes add seven points, two of which came on a highlight-reel worthy dunk late in the second half.
Together, the trio of freshmen combined for 42 points, nearly half of Northwest's total.
“It was pretty much the same game plan we usually have,” coach Ben McCollum said. “(The freshmen) just had more opportunities than usual, so they were able to attack and be aggressive.”
Senior swingman Joey Witthus added 18 points while sophomore forward Ryan Hawkins scored 15, shooting 5-of-7 from the field. The Bearcats’ scattered point totals underscored an unselfish style of basketball the team has played all season.
“I got some great shots from my teammates, so I was open,” Hawkins said. “ Trevor, Joey, DB (Bernard), we all kind of did our own thing; moved the ball and played unselfish basketball like we always do.”
Entering the game, McCollum placed no added emphasis on the rivalry matchup, saying the contest was just another game. Following Northwest’s convincing victory, the coach spotlighted Western’s play.
“They’ve got a lot of fight in them,” McCollum said of the Griffons. “They compete. We made a few mistakes in their dribble-drive on some of their good shooters-- just things you can’t do on the road-- and they exposed on those. We were able to buckle back down and get some stops.”
In the aftermath of his team’s 17th victory of the season and the 17th victory over Western in his career, McCollum cited the atmosphere at Missouri Western’s Looney Complex as a rousing factor in the contest but again emphasized that the rivalry component was insignificant for Northwest.
“We like the big atmosphere; big games,” McCollum said. “This was one of them. We’ve won a lot of games in the MIAA, and so, that’s just another game.”