The Lincoln men's basketball team had built up some momentum. Then the Blue Tigers lost it. And they lost it in a hurry.
After trailing early, Lincoln pulled within two points to open the second half, but Northwest Missouri rallied quickly and cruised to a 97-78 Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association win on Saturday afternoon at Jason Gym.
"I think they took the fight out of us in the second half," Lincoln coach John Redmond said. "Northwest hit us in the mouth and we didn't have a response. They came out and made a statement."
Lincoln (3-19, 1-13) trailed by 15 with 4:55 left in the first half, but Mike Smith hit back-to-back jumpers to cap off a 17-5 run that cut the Blue Tigers' deficit to three with a little more than a minute remaining before halftime.
Northwest Missouri, the top team in the MIAA, entered the break with a 44-38 lead, but James Edmond opened the second half with a dunk and Mario Bass hit a pair of free throws to bring Lincoln within two with 18:41 left in the game.
The Blue Tigers didn't get any closer.
"Once we came out, we get the dunk, and I thought, "Okay here we go,'" Redmond said. "I thought we had a chance to beat them tonight. We had an opportunity and we didn't take advantage."
Instead, Northwest Missouri (18-5, 13-1) outscored Lincoln 24-8 over the next nine minutes to take a 68-50 lead with 9:46 remaining and the Bearcats cruised from there.
"That spurt in the first four or five minutes in the second half - that spurt broke our backs and we never responded to it," Redmond said. "That was the difference in the ballgame.
"Northwest Missouri is on a mission - they want to be conference champs. They played hard, everybody did their jobs, and that's what you have to do if you want to be a champion."
DeShaun Cooper did most of the damage for the Bearcats. The 5-foot-8 senior was 13-of-20 from the field and poured a game-high 35 points to help lead Northwest Missouri to its 10th straight win.
"He took over tonight," Redmond said. "Yes, they had five players in double figures, but the key to me was Mr. Cooper. That 35 points took a chunk. He just destroyed us. My hat goes off to that young man."
Northwest Missouri also dominated the glass, claiming a 43-18 rebounding advantage against the Blue Tigers, who were limited to two offensive boards and seven assists.
"Nobody in America ever only got 18 rebounds and won a college basketball game," Redmond said. "We've never been out-rebounded that badly. They weren't any bigger than anyone else we've faced this year. I just thought, fundamentally, we didn't do what we were supposed to. Size wasn't a factor as far as I was conceded. To me, rebounding is about will."
Joshua Buie led four players in double figures with 19 points, while Edmond and Jeremy Jackson both finished with 15 to help lead the Blue Tigers. Mike Smith tallied 12 points for Lincoln, which was 24-of-54 (44.4 percent) from the field and 5-of-22 (22.7 percent) from behind the arc.
That wasn't enough to keep up with the Bearcats, who shot 62 percent (18-of-29) from the field in the second half.
"I didn't think, overall, we did a very good job defensively," Redmond said. "You force 14 turnovers and only give up nine, you got to think you've got a chance to win a ballgame."
The Blue Tigers were able to cut their deficit to 76-62 after a three-point play by Emond with 6:53 remaining, but Northwest Missouri maintained at least a 16-point advantage the rest of the way.
Dillion Starzl scored 14 points, Conner Crooker added 11, while Bryston Williams and Grant Cozad scored 10 apiece for the Bearcats, who were 32-of-56 (57.1 percent) from the field and 7-of-16 (43.8 percent) from 3-point range.
"I wanted this one so badly," Redmond said. "I thought if we got it, I thought we would win the rest of our home games. I thought if we got today, it would be hard to beat us here - I really did."
The Blue Tigers, who picked up their first MIAA win this season and snapped a 12-game losing streak Thursday, will try to get back on track when they travel Wednesday to Central Missouri.
The Mules handed Lincoln a 89-61 loss on January 22 at Jason Gym.
"We're going to go back to work Monday," Redmond said. "Hopefully we can got to Central Missouri and get our dignity back from them. Our dignity was stolen here and we've got to go get that back."