Huge deficits make winning difficult in any sport, and that’s the situation the Washburn women’s basketball team found themselves in against the Bearcats of Northwest Missouri State on Thursday night at Lee Arena.
A first quarter deficit of 14 proved to be to large for the Ichabods, even after taking the lead a handful of times in the second half. The Bearcats made clutch shots down the stretch and outlasted the Washburn comeback to pull off a late season upset just before postseason time.
Early turnovers and a cold start offensively allowed Northwest Missouri to jump out to a quick 11-0 lead. Coach Ron McHenry called a timeout with 5:30 minutes to go in the first quarter with Washburn still looking for their first bucket.
Junior guard Shelbie Piggie finally broke the seal on the basket with just under four minutes left in the first quarter, but Washburn still trailed 13-2 in the early going.
Piggie, again, got the Ichabods on the board just before the buzzer sounded to end the first quarter with transition layup off an assist by junior guard Reagan Phelan. Piggie’s 4 points were the only Washburn points in the first quarter which left them trailing 16-4 after one.
When the lead started to grow to double digits, the Bearcats began to slow the pace of the game drastically. They did not push the ball up the court after defensive rebounds, instead choosing to let everyone clear out and then walk the ball into the frontcourt. Many of their shots didn’t come until under 10 seconds were left on the shot clock.
The strategy seemed to work as Northwest was able to find quality shots and knock them down whereas Washburn struggled to get any shot to go. The Bearcat lead had grown to 15 late in the second quarter.
An old fashioned three-point play from sophomore guard Hunter Bentley cut the lead to 12 and on the next possession Piggie made her third shot of the game closing the deficit to 29-19.
The Bearcats converted a three-pointer, which was answered by a put-back layup from senior Nicole Murugarren which left the score at 32-21 at the half.
Piggie led the Ichabods with six points at the break on 3-5 shooting from the field.
After a rough first half shooting percentage, Washburn came out firing hitting three of their first four shots to cut the lead to single digits. Trailing 34-27, the Bearcats called a timeout to slow the earlier momentum from the Ichabods.
A quick seven points from senior Taylor Blue drew the Ichabods within three at 41-38. The Bearcats again called timeout needing to make adjustments.
The Bearcats Kendey Eaton was the fuel to their fire offensively and slowing her down was key in drawing the game closer.
“#5 was really just taking people one-on-one,” said junior Alexis McAfee. “So getting her stopped was probably a big factor as well as boxing out and rebounding their misses.”
In the blink of an eye Phelan had the Ichabods back in front on three-pointer. The lead was the first of the game for Washburn at 43-41.
The Bearcats didn’t go quietly however, as they hit back to back shots and found themselves back in front, 46-45.
All of sudden both teams seemed to find their stroke on the offensive end and traded buckets back and forth, but Washburn still trailed 49-47 at the end of three quarters.
Blue gave Washburn the lead again with a three, but the lead was short lived when the Bearcats scored on the ensuing possession.
The Bearcats again started to take the air out of the ball and slow the game down. They continued to find quality shots and converted at a high percentage making it tough for the Ichabods to rally.
There was still fight in the Ichabods trailing by seven. A pair of free throws from Phelan and three from Piggie drew Washburn back within two.
Blue tied the game on a layup and after a jump ball with possession to Washburn, they once again had a chance to take the lead. Bentley drew a foul driving to the basket and converted one of two free throws to put the Ichabods back in front.
In what had become a back and forth affair, the lead changed hands several times with Northwest Missouri leading 69-68 with 30 seconds left. A turnover by Washburn with 22 seconds left forced the Ichabods into the fouling game to extend the game.
The Bearcats converted all but one of their late free throws closing the door on any opportunity of a Washburn comeback.
Bentley made a layup as time expired, but it was too little to late and Northwest Missouri State completed the upset 72-70.
In the loss, Blue led the way with 20 points with Piggie and Bentley chipping in 13 and 12, respectively.
The Ichabods will look to bounce back quickly and put this game in the rearview mirror as they eye the postseason.
“Just staying focused and coming in ready to play [is the key],” said Blue.
The defeat drops Washburn to 21-6 overall and 14-4 in the MIAA with one game left in the regular season at home on Saturday against Missouri Western.