KANSAS CITY, Mo — Northwest men’s basketball coach Ben McCollum isn’t worried about his team’s close call to Emporia State in the MIAA Tournament quarterfinals March 7.
The Bearcats beat the Hornets 82-79 at the Municipal Auditorium. It marked the second time Northwest won by less than five points in three games, the third occasion of the season.
The men’s MIAA Tournament opener has been among the closest games the Bearcats (30-0) have won since the 2016-17 season.
“I don’t read much into the closeness of games or anything like that,” McCollum said. “It’s tournaments, it’s matchups.”
Northwest’s next test comes against Lincoln in the MIAA semifinals. The Blue Tigers (18-11) beat Fort Hays State 74-69 in the MIAA quarterfinals March 8.
It marks the first time Lincoln has won a game in the Kansas City portion of the MIAA tournament. The Blue Tigers checked out from their hotel prior to their game with Fort Hays but will return for at least another night.
“I thought they handled it pretty well,” Lincoln coach John Moseley said. “I was scared to death they were going to take the lead and what it could do mentally. It’s a testament to these guys, this was our 29th game.”
The Blue Tigers are the lowest seed remaining in the tournament. Based on the matchup against the Hornets, Northwest isn’t overlooking Lincoln.
“It is getting towards the end of the season, so everyone is playing at their best,” senior Joey Witthus said. “It is playoff time and that is just how it is.”
The Bearcats have established an unprecedented standard this season, becoming the first team to sweep the MIAA in its 19 game conference format.
Northwest is also the last undefeated team in all of college basketball, including NCAA Division I, II and III and NAIA Division I.
Lincoln, on the other hand, has lost six of its last eight games. The Blue Tigers recognize the implications that come with meeting coach the Bearcats.
“We know who we play, we have great respect for Ben and his program,” Moseley said. “Six straight years as conference champions is unheard of. We’ve got work cut out for us.”
Northwest beat Lincoln twice this season in what appears to be Bearcat dominated games on paper.
The Blue Tigers played the Bearcats to a tough match in each game and shut down Witthus in the second meeting.
MIAA Freshman of the Year Trevor Hudgins recognizes the intensity Lincoln could enter the game with, and says the Bearcats are ready for whatever happens come game time.
“Everyone is coming with their best every game — win or go home,” Hudgins said. “It is just fun.”
The semifinal matchup is set to tip at 12 p.m. March 9. Both the Bearcats and Blue Tigers will be playing in their second matches of the tournament.
Both teams had close matchups in round one, and expect to be more aware in the semifinals game.
“That rhythm game is really big for teams,” McCollum said. “Usually the second game you play is a better game. Hopefully, we will be better on Saturday.”