ST. JOSEPH, Mo.-- Northwest men’s basketball started its season on a high note with a 72-70 overtime win over Northern State Nov. 3 at the St. Joseph Civic Arena in the Small College Basketball Hall of Fame Classic.
Northwest battled back from a 34-28 halftime deficit to tie the game at 60 at the end of regulation.
The game was punctuated by a number of clutch baskets courtesy of sophomore forward Ryan Hawkins. Hawkins buried a three to tie the game at 36 midway through the second half and added a dunk with just over a minute left in overtime to give Northwest a 63-61 lead.
Redshirt freshman guard Trevor Hudgins led the way for the Bearcats (1-0) offensively, scoring 25 points, going 8-for-21 from the field and 9-for-12 from the foul line.
“I waited a year with my redshirt, so I was just ready to get out here and just play with my team,” Hudgins said. “It was just fun. I was just trying to help my team. Just trying to win (by) any means necessary.”
The freshman showed poise in his first collegiate game, notching five assists and four steals to go along with his team-leading point total. Hudgins’ relentless attacking of the rim was paramount in Northwest’s comeback effort.
“That was good,” coach Ben McCollum said of Hudgins’ aggressive play. “He had lanes to be able to get layups, and he executed that, and obviously kind of put us on his back a little bit.”
For Northwest, the win was impressive and gripping. The score was close for the duration of the game: the Bearcats’ largest lead of the night was just six points.
“We got 50/50 balls, that was a big thing,” McCollum said. “We got loose balls, we got a bunch of (offensive) boards; increased our possessions. Offensively, we took care of it. We didn’t turn it over a ton, so that was good.”
As a team that graduated four starters last spring, the win was one of promise. In addition to Hudgins, freshman guard Diego Bernard logged meaningful minutes in the game, scoring eight points and recording one assist in just under 16 minutes of action.
“I thought they were really good,” McCollum said of the team’s freshmen. “Diego will be even better and better and better every single time out. It just takes time, I don’t care how good a freshman is, it takes time.”
In some ways, the game represented a floor for the Bearcats, rather than a ceiling. Northwest managed to win despite shooting just 33.8 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from three. In all, the team didn’t play near its potential.
“We didn’t play well offensively at all,” McCollum said. “Joey (Witthus) isn’t going to go 5-for-23 every night. We’re not going to shoot 28 percent from three like we did tonight. It was just one of those nights. We just have to be better offensively, because that was fairly anemic.”
Despite their shots not falling and leading for just over 15 minutes in the contest, the Bearcats walked away with a win in the first game of a new era. Northwest will look to build on the performance 5:30 p.m. Nov. 4 against Ferris State, the reigning NCAA Division II National Champions.
“We just love each other,” Hudgins said. “We played like we love each other right there down the stretch in OT.”