By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
MARYVILLE - It took the Missouri Western women's basketball team a little while to get going Saturday against Northwest Missouri State.
But once they got going, the Griffons were tough to stop.
A three-pointer by junior Jordan Cunningham with 6:59 left in the second quarter gave Missouri Western its first lead at 14-12, and the Griffons (13-4, 7-2 MIAA) never looked back in a 55-37 win over Northwest at Bearcat Arena in Maryville Saturday.
The Griffons outscored Northwest 18-3 in the second period after trailing 10-7 at the end of the first.
"I thought our defense is why the middle (of the game) was so good," Missouri Western coach Candi Whitaker said. "We sped the game up, we got more possessions, we used our length and athleticism to turn them over and make them take a quicker shot."
Missouri Western picked up where they left off after halftime, scoring 26 third quarter points and shooting 62.5 percent from the field during that time.
The Griffons led by as many as 26 before Northwest (7-7, 2-6 MIAA) narrowed the gap a bit, outscoring Missouri Western 12-4 in the final quarter.
Still, the Griffons held Northwest to 28.6 percent shooting from the field and Missouri Western scored 22 points off of 17 Bearcat turnovers.
Junior Brionna Budgets led Missouri Western in scoring with a game-high 15 points. Junior Connie Clarke logged her eighth double-double of the season with 10 points and 14 rebounds.
Junior Jordan Cunningham and freshman Kassandra Caron each scored 10 points off the bench.
"I thought both Jordan and Kassie were huge for us," Whitaker said, "at a time when we were struggling. It was a tight ball game and we weren't making shots (early on) and weren't getting to multiple sides, and both of them made huge plays and had shots go down."
Sophomore Molly Hartnett led Northwest eight points. Sophomore Caely Kesten scored seven.
Saturday's win is now the sixth straight for the Griffons, as they claimed their first win in Bearcat Arena since January 2020. The 37 points also ties the fewest Missouri Western has ever allowed in an MIAA game.
The Griffons have real momentum as they head out on the road to face Newman Thursday and Central Oklahoma Saturday.
"We're getting close to the halfway point (of the season)," Whitaker said. "Every game is important in this league. It's so important to stay focused on that. I think that teams that get their eye off of the next opponent can let things slip up. Our entire focus will be on Newman, then UCO and just take it game-by-game."
Northwest men end first half on a 23-2 run, Bearcats roll to victory
Missouri Western came to play in the first 10.5 minutes of Saturday's game, trading baskets with No. 5 Northwest and even leading 16-14 with 9:24 left in the first half.
The Bearcats (14-1, 7-1 MIAA) then found their groove and never let up, ending the first half on a 23-2 run. Northwest led 37-18 at halftime and cruised to an 87-64 win at Bearcat Arena Saturday.
Missouri Western committed 12 first half turnovers, and the Bearcats hit six of their first nine shots from downtown.
"I thought once we were able to get clicking a bit more on offense, I thought that helped a ton," Northwest coach Ben McCollum said. "I thought we got out in front of (Missouri Western's) angles quite a bit. I thought we were able to defend them pretty good."
Missouri Western played much better offensively in the second half, shooting 59.1 percent in the final 20 minutes and connecting on 15-of-20 free throws during that time as well.
The Griffons committed only three turnovers in the second half after giving up 12 in the first 20 minutes.
"So when we just hand them those possessions, it's hard for me to evaluate where our offense is," Missouri Western coach Will Martin said. "We turned the ball over three times in the second half and scored 46 points. I'll continue to say it - we have to value possessions and take care of the basketball."
The Bearcats kept up their pace on offense down the stretch, shooting 64.3 percent in the second half and 63.3 percent on the day. Northwest also knocked down 14-of-26 shots from long range.
Junior Wes Dreamer led five Bearcats in double figures with 17 points. Dreamer alone was 5-of-8 from three. Senior Diego Bernard had 16 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
Sophomore Mitch Mascari scored 13 points, junior Luke Waters scored 12 while freshman Bennett Stirtz had 11.
Junior JaRon Thames played a season-high 27 minutes and scored a season-high 17 points to lead Missouri Western. Thames has been coming off of a left hand injury.
Sophomore Taye Fields had 15 points to go with six rebounds, four assists and four steals. Sophomore Julius Dixon finished with 14 points.
The Griffons shot 46.5 percent from the field and were 17-of-24 at the free throw line Saturday.
"They kept fighting the entire 40 minutes," Martin said of his team. "It makes me proud as a coach. I don't want to lose. None of us do. We're ultimate competitors, but to have a team, no matter what the score is, they're going to continue to fight. That means a lot to me."
Missouri Western has now lost three straight, and also dropped their 22nd in a row to the Bearcats.
The Missouri Western men start a busy week on Tuesday at home with a makeup game against Fort Hays State. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m. Both Griffon teams then head to Wichita Thursday to face Newman.
"It never gets easier in this league," Martin said. "You can't circle any games as wins. They're all tough. This is a tough stretch for us and it'll test our character and our grit."
Those games Thursday start at 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. All of the games will be carried on KFEQ Radio (680, 95.3, 680kfeq.com).
You can follow Tommy on Twitter @TommyKFEQ and St. Joseph Post @StJosephPost.