By CEDRIQUE FLEMMING
The men’s side of the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association is as close from top to bottom as any conference in the country.
Just take a look at the results from Thursday’s action: Washburn defeated Lincoln 70-65 and Central Missouri topped Central Oklahoma 72-70. Oh, and let’s not forget Northeastern State’s 73-70 triumph over Missouri Western State inside the NSU Event Center.
“This was a typical MIAA game,” NSU coach Larry Gipson said. “It was down to the wire, which is usually how games in this league go.”
Thursday’s results backed up that statement, and Gipson knows any win is a welcome one.
“I’m exceedingly happy that we won tonight. We played 15 minutes without (senior point guard) Bryton Hobbs, and I thought the guys that were in the game at that point and time did a tremendous job,” Gipson said. “This was a big win for us coming back the way we did. We had a long layoff after our last game. We were in massive foul trouble for a time, but we just kept hanging in there and battling.”
The RiverHawks now have three league wins and have yet to suffer a defeat.
The one against the Griffons, however, was in doubt late.
Missouri Western shot lights out and held a seven-point lead at the final media timeout. NSU weathered the storm and was able to regain the lead at 66-65 with 1:40 to play after venturing on an 8-0 run.
The Griffons led for one final time following a layup from Ryan Devers with 1:18 to play, but a three-point basket by Marcus Sheppard with 51 seconds remaining and four late free throws from Hobbs and Curtis Evans were all Northeastern State needed to find a way to win.
“Missouri Western State is very much improved since last year. (MWSU coach) Brett Weiberg is an Oklahoma guy, and he’s doing a great job with their team,” Gipson said. “We haven’t seen perimeter shooting and scoring like that all year. They were far better tonight than I’ve seen on film.”
The Griffons made a blistering 12 three-point baskets and shot 50 percent from downtown. The difference in the game ended up coming on the free-throw line, as NSU held a 24-12 advantage.
Hobbs led all scorers with 20 points despite battling foul trouble throughout the game. Keon Littleton posted a season-high 17 points, while Marcus Sheppard added 14 and Evans had 12.
Devers paced Missouri Western State with 16 points. Adarius Fulton scored 12, and both Hans Thun and Dareon Jones had 11.
NSU women 57, Missouri Western State 42
The NSU women used a strong defensive effort and had two freshmen step up in a 57-42 victory over Missouri Western State Thursday night inside the NSU Event Center.
Courtney Cowan, a redshirt freshman guard, entered the game with a career-high seven points and Mya Walker, a true freshman forward, had yet to post more than six points in a single contest.
The tandem combined for 26 points and were the only two RiverHawks in double figures, with Cowan finishing at 14 points and Walker adding 12.
“I’ve had trouble all season getting my rhythm back, but these last few practices have been really good,” said Cowan, who was forced to miss the 2012-13 campaign due to injury. “Tonight everything just worked for me. They were guarding Fontana (Tate) so much because she is our leading scorer, and I was able to make a couple shots and hit my free throws.”
NSU coach Randy Gipson said he is excited about the progression of his younger players.
“It’s good to see. (Courtney and Mya) were players that we recruited because we thought they could give us scoring,” he said. “They’re starting to understand the game and the intensity that’s required to play at this level. We’ve seen some progress being made from Courtney over the last week and a half in practice, and (Thursday) was clearly Mya’s best college game.”
NSU’s defense was also stellar, as the RiverHawks held the Griffons to their lowest point total since Fort Hays State also held them to 42 on Dec. 8, 2012.
“Missouri Western plays really hard and they’re a good defensive team,” Gipson said. “We had difficulty sustaining offense, but our kids really gave a good effort defensively throughout the game. That ultimately carried us to the win tonight.”
Both teams shot poorly, with the Griffons posting a 31-percent clip (16-for-52) and NSU reaching 29 percent (15-for-52). The two squads only made three three-point baskets, but the RiverHawks outscored MWSU 24-7 on the free-throw line. NSU also outrebounded the visitors 47-38.
The lone threat for Missouri Western came in the post in the form of forward Quenisha Lockett. She finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds, but no other member of the team had more than six points.
The NSU basketball programs will entertain Central Missouri beginning at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 21. The Jennies are currently ranked No. 8 in the nation, while the Mules are receiving votes in the national polls.