By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
Fred Rogers once said, "Love is at the root of everything. All learning...all relationships...love, or the lack of it."
Some may be wondering - why is No. 22 Missouri Western (8-1) so good all of a sudden? What's the key to this best start in two decades? What's the key to this story? This run? This latest win?
"What you see is a group of guys who love each other," Griffons coach Will Martin said in the midst of his first season. "It's real. If you come to a practice or a game, you see it and feel it.
"It makes me so proud, because I get texts from D-I coaches and even NBA coaches I know, and all they want to talk about when they see our guys play, even if it's just on a live stream, they say, 'It looks like your guys just care about each other and love each other.' And that wins. It does. That's our competitive advantage."
The Griffons, through a game dogged by fouls and a faulty shot clock, used that competitive advantage in a historic 74-67 win over No. 5 Washburn (8-1) Saturday night in a raucous MWSU Fieldhouse.
Raucous, at least, by COVID standards.
"I feel like we had a pretty nice crowd (Saturday) to be honest," junior Tyrell Carroll said. "There were more people watching today than there were my freshman year. But, we focused on bringing our own energy, so we just try and feed off of each other."
Yes, the season is only nine games in, but it's hard to understate the significance of a win like the one Missouri Western just experienced.
The first ranked men's matchup in the MWSU Fieldhouse since 2002. The first ranked men’s matchup between the Griffons and Ichabods since 1995 and the first win over a top five team for the Griffon men since 2011.
"I feel like it was a huge win for us," Carroll said. "I feel like it really got over this hump we've been trying to get over. From being a good team to becoming a great team."
Missouri Western, for now, also takes over first place in the MIAA Conference standings.
"I think you're seeing us transform from good to great," Martin said, expanding on Carroll's point. "We're finding ways to win, regardless of circumstances. We're somewhere in between good and great. We're going to have to keep finding ways to win like we did tonight.
"For our team to go from where we are to where we want to be, which is not just top of the pack nine games in, but consistently being a team to be reckoned with in this league, in this region and in the country, we have to stay locked into the process."
Both teams got off to a sluggish start, starting a combined 0-of-4 from the field. In the first five minutes, they shot a combined 4-of-17.
The game then hit an interesting snag at the 13:39 mark of the first half, as the shot and game clock went out on the Washburn goal. Several staff members took the basket down to inspect it and troubleshoot the problem.
The delay went on for about 12 or so minutes before the officials resumed play with just one working shot clock.
The scoring heated up after that, particularly for the Griffons, who went on a 7-0 run late in the half to grab a nine-point advantage and eventually take a 40-32 lead into the locker room.
With the shot clocks now working on both ends, the Ichabods opened the second half on a 5-0 run, but the Griffons maintained the lead.
Fouls started stacking up for both teams, as both the Griffons and the Ichabods got into the bonus with 13:05 left. There were a combined 17 fouls in the first ten minutes of the second half, bringing the game to a grinding halt.
Carroll and Tyree Martin spend a decent portion of the second half on the bench with four fouls each.
With two starters in foul trouble, including the leading scorer, Martin turned to his staff to determine how to handle the situation.
“I completely let them manage (Martin's) minutes once he got four fouls," Martin said of his staff. "I was so locked into the game. I said, Tim (Pete), Ty (Danielson), you got it. They did an unbelievable job. They put (Carroll) in the exact right moments for us, and he was a spark plug. Then, they got him out, so he wouldn't get his fifth (foul). It says so much about my staff and the maturity of those guys."
Carroll was indeed a spark plug, scoring 13 points and grabbing four rebounds and two steals.
With Carroll limited and Missouri Western's offense struggling , Washburn took a 51-49 lead with 10:15 to play, going on a 19-9 run.
Missouri Western missed their first seven three-point attempts of the second half, and made only two of their first 17 shots attempted in the second half.
An Alex John dunk, though, tied things up at 51, and started an eventual 16-1 run for MWSU.
Carroll reentered the game with around eight minutes left and made an immediate impact, making two layups and a free throw to put the Griffons up 57-51 with 7:15 to play.
They wouldn't lose the lead again.
Missouri Western seized on their first taste of momentum in the second half, as Reese Glover and Will Eames each drained clutch three-pointers to put the Griffons up 65-52 with 3:21 to play.
Glover finished with 15 points, including a 4-of-9 effort from three. Eames dropped his fifth double-double of the season with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
Momentum on Saturday came in spurts for Missouri Western, as Washburn closed the gap, thanks to a pair of questionable technical foul calls against the Griffons.
One on Eames and another on Carroll. They each fouled out after being called for those.
Fouls hindered both teams and frankly, the game itself. 47 whistles on the entire night, including 30 in the second half.
The Ichabods got back to within five, 65-60, with 1:37 to play.
But, Missouri Western capitalized on their late free throw opportunities, going 9-for-10 on their final five trips to the line.
Q Mays knocked down eight of those nine makes, and finished with a team-high 17 points, including an 11-of-12 effort from the charity stripe.
“I just got in the gym more," Mays said of his free throws. "My teammates believed in me and pushed me. They told me, 'Come on, Q. Let's do it.' We just did it."
The Missouri Western women, playing for the first time in three weeks, couldn't overcome an early 16-point deficit as they lost to Washburn Saturday, 61-49, at the Fieldhouse. The Griffons have now lost five straight games and fall to 2-6 this season.
Washburn raced out to an 18-2 lead to start the game, making seven of their first nine shots. The Griffons used a 15-4 run to bridge the first and second quarters and pulled to within 30-24 at halftime.
MWSU opened the second half with a basket to cut the lead to 30-26, but that was as close the Griffons would get. Washburn led 46-39 after three quarters and used a 12-3 run to pull away.
Logan Hughes and Brionna Budgetts led Missouri Western with 10 points each, while Miranda Stephens added seven. MWSU forced 21 Washburn turnovers, but only scored 10 points off of those turnovers. The Griffons also shot just 31.7% percent (19-60) from the field.
The Missouri Western men and women are on the road Thursday as they travel to Nebraska-Kearney. The women tip off at 5:30 p.m. with the men to follow.
Follow Tommy on Twitter @TommyKFEQ and St. Joseph Post @StJosephPost.