The Washburn men’s basketball team was back in the MIAA tournament championship game on Sunday afternoon for a rematch of last year’s final against Northwest Missouri State.
This year, the Bearcats entered the game undefeated in the season and ranked number one in the nation.
The first 13 minutes of the game were played at a high pace. Both teams were running up and down the floor and points were put on the board on each side. Senior Javion Blake helped the Ichabods draw first blood with a three. Back-to-back layups from senior David Salach and sophomore Tyler Geiman to put Washburn up 7-4.
The Bearcats fired right back, jumping to a 24-17 lead at the 10 minute mark. Salach closed the deficit to three at 21-24, but it was the Bearcats who finished the half on a tear.
During the last ten minutes of the half, Northwest outscored Washburn 15-4 to build a 39-25 lead headed into the break. Only a Blake layup and a Jace Williams dunk to end the half kept the Bearcats from scoring 15 straight points.
Many people admire how well the Bearcats shoot the ball, but Head Coach Brett Ballard is impressed with another aspect of their game.
“Everybody likes to talk about their offense,” Ballard said. “But I’m more impressed with their defense. They held us to 53 points and we scored 99 the night before, and we’ve been scoring in the mid 80’s throughout the year. I am just floored by how solid they are defensively.”
Washburn came out with energy to start the second half and got within 12 points, but Northwest slammed the door on any comeback that might have been brewing with a 13-0 run.
The run put the Bearcats up by 25 and all but sealed the game. Washburn struggled to get the deficit back under 20 and Northwest came out on top, 82-53.
Blake led the team in scoring with 17 followed by 10 from senior Devyn Wilson on the strength of two 3-pointers.
Despite the game not going as planned, Washburn is confident that it will be ready to go for the NCAA tournament.
“We still have a lot to play for,” Blake said. “The first thing coach said after the game was to just keep our heads up and chests high because they’re a really good team and we played probably one of the best teams in the country tonight, so moving forward we just have to get ready this upcoming week and be prepared to play next Saturday.”
Blake and Geiman were both selected to the MIAA All-Tournament team.
Sunday night, the Ichabods were selected as the number three seed in the Central Region. They will travel to Maryville, Missouri, on March 16 to play conference foe, Missouri Southern, in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Northwest Missouri hosts the Central Regional by virtue of being the top seed.