Northwest men’s basketball cruised past Truman State 87-60 in the team’s home opener at Bearcat Arena Nov. 16.
The No. 5 Bearcats (5-0) pushed their perfect record one game further, beating the Bulldogs convincingly in their first game on the home floor. After falling down 2-0 on the first basket of the game, the Bearcats took control and led for 37:53 in the game.
The latest win came in a different style than the first four did for Northwest, particularly in the first half. After predominantly outshooting their competition in the early going of the season, the Bearcats relied less on the three-ball against Truman, shooting just 1-of-5 from beyond the arc in the first half.
“I thought we did some things well,” coach Ben McCollum said. “I think we need to play a lot harder coming out of the gate. I think some of that had to do with just playing at home for the first time. I thought they (Truman) played harder than us in the first half. We need to understand that we haven’t arrived, and we need to make sure that we compete every single night at our highest level.”
Truman’s increased effort in the first half was for naught, as Northwest entered the break leading the Bulldogs 42-25. The Bearcats emerged from the locker room firing at a higher pace from three, shooting 7-of-14 from deep in the second half.
McCollum accredited the lack of three-pointers in the first half to the defensive scheme implemented by Truman.
“It was based off what they were doing,” McCollum said. “They were switching our ball screens and so naturally you get mismatches, so you have to get uphill and get yourself some layups. I thought we did an OK job in the first half of doing that. We want to play with the ball a lot and get uphill a little quicker, so we’ll improve.”
In some ways, each half for Northwest was defined and punctuated by the performance of one player. In the first half, redshirt freshman guard Trevor Hudgins scored 20 of the team’s 42 points, shooting 9-of-17 from the field.
“I was feeling good,” Hudgins said. “We just executed the game plan...Just playing our game.”
Hudgins finished the game with 28 points on 12-of-24 shooting, going 2-of-4 from downtown. In just his fifth collegiate game, the guard continued to dominate as he has all season.
“I’m just taking it how it is,” Hudgins said. “(I’m) just trying to learn as much as I can, just trying to have fun, trying to compete, just trying to absorb everything coach is telling me. I’m just trying to get better every day.”
At the onset of the second half, Hudgins took a different form, serving more as a facilitator for the Bearcats while senior forward Joey Witthus carried the load offensively. After finishing the first half with just seven points, Witthus exploded with 19 in the second half while shooting 9-of-10 from the field on the night.
Witthus, the only returning starter from Northwest’s 2017-18 squad, figured to be a focal point of the offense heading into the season and has performed accordingly.
“We didn’t play too hard in the first half,” Witthus said. “We came out a lot better in the second half and I tried to be a little bit more aggressive. I got some post-up opportunities where I could go in strong and finish.”
For Northwest, the game followed a similar script as each game has this season. Hudgins and Witthus led the offense, sophomore Ryan Hawkins hit shots when he needed to, freshman Diego Bernard showed promise off the bench and the Bearcats waltzed their way to a fifth consecutive win.
“I think our team has a lot of great talent,” Hudgins said. “(We have) a lot of hard workers. We see each other putting in the work and we just want to see each other succeed during the game.”