Larry Gipson would prefer to not make it a habit, but Northeastern State is finding ways to win with minimal help from Bryton Hobbs.
Hobbs was limited to 11 points — nine in the second half — yet Northeastern State did just enough to get past Central Missouri, 72-71, on Saturday afternoon at NSU's event center.
"The best thing that's happened in this homestand is that against Missouri Western we played 15 minutes without Bryton," Gipson said, talking about Hobbs, who did chip in with seven rebounds and seven assists. "We manged to not only stay in the game but we built a lead. Tonight, I thought we overcame, what I thought was, an average performance by Bryton. He's much better than one-for-14 from the field, but he made clutch free throws and he made them when they counted."
The back-and-forth tussle — which featured 26 lead changes and 15 ties — ended when Central Missouri's Charles Hammork attempted an erratic fadeaway jump shot, which clanged off the the side of the rim as the buzzer sounded. The Mules (10-2, 2-1 Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association) were given a chance to win the game when Hobbs turned the ball over by falling out of bounds with 3 seconds left.
"Bryton Hobbs is too good of an athlete to just fall out of bounds on his own," said a critical Gipson of how the ball was turned over.
The RiverHawks (9-2, 4-0) enjoyed a six-point advantage with 26 seconds to play, but that was quickly erased with two late treys from Central Missouri's Daylen Robinson, who scored 13 points to go along with eight rebounds.
Leading the way for NSU was Curtis Evans, who logged 17 points on seven-of-12 shooting from the field. Keon Littleton added 16 points, while Marcus Sheppard (13) and Michael Harmon (11) both chipped in with double-digit scoring efforts as NSU remained in the group of unbeatens in conference play, along with Missouri Southern and Northwest Missouri State — NSU's next opponent on Jan. 6.
"We try to take it one game at a time," Evans said. "We can't get too ahead of ourselves, and hopefully we come back from the break good and back on track."
The RiverHawks found themselves on the short end of rebounding (39 to 35) and field-goal shooting (29-of-65 for the UCM; 20-of-57 for NSU) against the Mules. But NSU made up for it at the free-throw line, where the RiverHawks cashed in on 77.4 percent (24-of-31) of its foul shots.
Other than Robinson, the Mules had only one other player score in double figures. Dillon Deck led all scorers in the game with 22 points on a 10-of-18 shooting showing from the field.
With no more games until 2014, Gipson's team now gets the holidays to rest up before a crucial stretch of basketball in January.
"We need this Christmas break to heal up a little bit," Gipson said. "We'll take it from there and see what happens second semester."
NSU 72, Central Missouri 71
UCM 31 40 - 71
NSU 30 42 - 72
UCM (9-2, 4-0): Dillon Deck 22, Daylen Robinson 13, Gilliam 9, Donald 8, Epps 5, White 4, Hammork 4, Wolf 3, Magdziarz 3.
NSU (9-2, 4-0): Curtis Evans 17, Keon Littleton 16, Marcus Sheppard 13, Michael Harmon 11, Bryton Hobbs 11, Qualls 3, McDonald 1.