MARYVILLE, Mo. — For the second time in four days, the Northwest Missouri State offense could not solve the Washburn defense. The Bearcats fell 56-43 against the Ichabods on Tuesday night in Bearcat Arena.
“If you can't score, you are going to struggle to win games,” Northwest coach Austin Meyer said.
The back-to-back wins by the Ichabods over the Bearcats cements their place in the MIAA Tournament next week while Northwest's place in that dance is still in flux. Washburn now holds the seven seed with a 10-10 record while Northwest is currently the eight seed with a 7-13 mark but Missouri Southern (7-13) and Missouri Western (7-13) nipping at its heels for that final spot.
Last season, the Bearcats made the tournament as a 10 seed, but with a condensed, 8-team field, they will need a better finish this season. Fortunately, Northwest has season sweeps over both Southern and Western this year.
Unfortunately, they face a tough finish to the schedule with their final two games against 17-3 Nebraska-Kearney and 18-2 Fort Hays State. Western faces the same two final opponents after Wednesday's game with 13-6 Central Oklahoma. Southern finishes its slate with Washburn and Central Oklahoma.
“At this point, we've probably had more adversity than anyone in the country,” Meyer said. “Four days, try to get back in tomorrow and get better. We are playing two top-15 teams in the country so, I mean, we don't have anything to lose at this point. It is just come, try to play hard and see what happens.”
If the Bearcats are going to stand a chance of upsetting either of their opponents the rest of the week, they will have to find a way to shoot better than they did on Tuesday night. Washburn held Northwest to just 4-of-25 from the field in the first half and 1-of-11 from 3-point range.
“We took some bad ones — we took a few bad ones there is no doubt,” Meyer said of the shooting. “But we still missed a lot of open ones. I think we are seven for our last 50 or something from three.
“We tried to go inside a little bit more early in the game and I thought we got to better spots. We scored 20 points in the paint, for us that is probably a lot. … We are such a streaky team shooting and once we make one, we will make a couple in a row, but we just get in these spells where we just literally don't make shots. That is tough.”
The Bearcats finished with just 15 points in the first half and just five in the second quarter as Washburn took a 32-15 lead into intermission.
“We don't have somebody that we can just throw it inside and go get a bucket,” Meyer said. “That is what Paityn (Rau) or Emma (Atwood) would do. So we are trying to manufacture more.”
The lead ballooned to 35-15, but the Bearcats found their offensive rhythm in the third quarter. Back-to-back buckets by freshman Molly Hartnett and a 3-pointer from senior Jaelyn Haggard quickly sliced into the margin.
Senior Mallory McConkey found her rhythm next with a basket and Mia Stillman and Haggard each hit 3-pointers to cap a 15-0 run and bring the Bearcats within 35-30.
“We were better defensively in the third quarter,” Meyer said. “Obviously, we made a couple shots which helped, but we just weren't really focused the first half and we had a lot of defensive breakdowns.”
That is as close as they would climb though as Washburn netted the final three points of the quarter.
The lead swayed between six and eight points early in the fourth quarter with the Bearcat defense keeping them close, particularly the defense of Jayna Green who had two blocks in one trip early in the quarter and four for the game.
“She has been really good all year,” Meyer said. “I put her up for the (MIAA) All-Defensive Team and she deserves it. She gets a lot of stats from a blocked shots standpoint, but also she can guard post players and she can guard perimeter players. She is a versatile defender and she is only going to get better.”
The dagger was provided by Washburn star Hunter Bentley, who knocked down a 3-pointer following a layup by Lauren Cassaday to put the Ichabods up 52-39 with 2:36 to play.
Mackenzie Gamble led Washburn in scoring with 13 points while Bentley finished with 12. The Ichabods had six players with at least seven points.
“We had way too many breakdowns,” Meyer said. “Saturday, we probably had five or six defensive breakdowns the entire game. I don't know how many we had today — we had a lot.”
Northwest had just two players reach that 7-point mark with Hartnett scoring 13 and Green scoring eight. McConkey and Haggard each had six points while Caely Kesten had four and Caitlyn Jordon and Stillman had three each.
The Bearcats finished the game 14-of-48 shooting and 8-of-36 if you take out the third quarter.
“We are just missing some ammo right now from a scoring standpoint,” Meyer said.
Northwest will be back at home on Thursday to host Nebraska-Kearney at 5:30 p.m. The Fort Hays State regular-season finale is set for 1:30 p.m., on Saturday at Bearcat Arena.