Isaiah Jackson Jan. 24

Sophomore guard Isaiah Jackson holds the ball between plays during Northwest men’s basketball’s 73-52 win over Central Missouri Jan. 19. Jackson recorded four rebounds against the Mules, increasing his season total to 74.

Northwest men’s basketball coach Ben McCollum knows about this time of year all too well. He’s in his 14th season at the helm of the program, so he’s more than accustomed to how the schedule works.

As the Bearcats finished up the first half of their conference schedule with wins against Central Missouri Jan. 19 and Lincoln Jan. 21, the first rematches of the season approached.

“I’ve always liked the second time around,” McCollum said with a smile.

Junior forward Wes Dreamer said there is some added pressure when facing a team the second time of the season. He said it’s challenging when the other team has already seen what his team plays like. This isn’t new for him, either, though. In his fourth season with the Bearcats, he’s familiar with seeing MIAA teams twice in a season. He’s also familiar with a team trying to avoid being swept.

“Both teams probably want to kick our butts after we already beat them once,” Dreamer said. “It just means we got to supply our own (energy) throughout the team and the coaches.”

No. 7 Northwest (17-2, 10-2 MIAA) will have another chance to make good on its defeats of conference foes from earlier in the season. For the first rematches of the season, the Bearcats will take on Nebraska-Kearney (3-15, 1-11 MIAA) Jan. 26 in Kearney, Nebraska, and Fort Hays State (13-6, 8-5 MIAA) Jan. 28 in Hays, Kansas.

In the first contest between Northwest and Hays, the Bearcats extended their streak over the Tigers to 15 games with a 64-49 triumph. Since then, Northwest has gone 7-2, while Hays went 6-4 over its next 10 games.

The Tigers have also made themselves one of the top defenses in the conference, as they are No. 1 in points allowed per game with 58.1. The Bearcats are No. 2 in the MIAA, allowing 59.3 points per matchup.

“They’re one of the few teams that sticks with what they do,” McCollum said about Hays. “That’s why they’re good. They stick with what they do, defensively. You’re not going to see a lot of gimmicks, you’re not going to see a lot of, ‘don’t guard this person, don’t guard this person’ and so on.”

“It always adds a little excitement to it, trying to say, ‘Our offense is better than their defense,’ but, in the end, it just comes down to whoever plays the best overall,” Dreamer said.

The first rematch of the season, though, will be Kearney. In the first meeting between the two squads, Northwest won 84-74. It was a close contest until the Bearcats were able to gain separation on the scoreboard with roughly 12 minutes left.

Northwest has won seven consecutive matchups with the Lopers. Since the two squads’ first game of the season, Kearney has lost all but one of its next nine games. The Lopers are last in the MIAA, record-wise.

McCollum, who has coached against Kearney in 15 games throughout his career, doesn’t care where the Lopers are in the standings.

“However many wins they have, they’re the best ‘that’ team I’ve ever seen,” McCollum said. “They’re a lot better than people think, so we’ll have our hands full.”

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