In the previous two games, the Emporia State men had made strong defensive stands early, only to watch the game slip away late.
The Hornets went into Saturday’s battle with Missouri Western set to allow it to happen a third time.
ESU kept its margin in double-figures for all but a handful of seconds in the final five minutes of what became an 81-68 victory over Missouri Western.
“It feels great, we needed to bounce back after two tough losses,” sophomore forward Devin Rottweiler said. “Washburn, we had them and kind of slacked off. Northwest Mo obviously is a really good team and we needed to get this win to get some momentum going into our next stretch of games.”
It was the second consecutive game that saw the Hornets defense hold firm early on as Northwest Missouri and MWSU were a combined 0-for-12 through the first four-plus minutes of their respective games.
“You look at the last two games, specifically this one, we started the game off with a ton of defensive energy, just holding our opponents without a field goal ... to start,” ESU Head Coach Craig Doty said. “(Overall today) defense held them to 37 percent. That ... means we’re getting stops so we can get out and go and run. As a result of getting those stops, we also shot 49 percent from the field, a combination of those two and winning on the glass, that results in a positive (end) for us.”
The numbers shone favorably on Emporia State most of the afternoon, outrebounding the Griffons by 10 as well as outshooting them throughout. ESU was also 16-of-21 from the free throw line, a far cry better than the 3-for-6 night on Thursday.
“Everyone shot the ball with confidence,” Rottweiler said. “Everyone shot the ball like they know how to.”
As Doty scrapped a typical lineup against the overly athletic Bearcats, Rottweiler and Mason Thiessen got back into a post-player rhythm on Saturday, scoring a combined 25 points.
“You saw a guy who defended well,” Doty said of Rottweiler. “You saw him go 7-for-9, he had a big hammer dunk ... and he played an incredible game. His output in nearly 20 minutes of play was substantial for our team.”
Also emerging was freshman guard Keyon Thomas, who scored 13 points but was more valuable simply with his ability to direct the Hornets on the court in Doty’s eyes. Also providing big minutes was Dallas Bailey, who in his second straight start recorded a team-high rebounds.
“This is a guy who late in his junior college season last year was leading his conference, from the wing spot, in rebounds,” Doty said. “He’s an incredible rebounder, one of the best natural rebounders I’ve seen and with Brendan Van Dyke injured we’re going to rely on Dallas to rebound that much more.”
The sole blemish on the day for the Hornets was indeed the injury to Van Dyke, who collapsed to the court with an apparent leg injury in the first half on an attempted drive to the basket.
His teammates took turns picking up the slack throughout, keeping the Griffons at arm’s length much of the day.
“(I) got a little worried late in this one, about the 12 minute mark, because it started resembling late what we had looked like the last two games but our guys battled through,” Doty said.
MWSU clawed itself back within three, but a pair of turnovers fueling a 9-0 run for the Hornets took the Griffons out of it in little more than a minute’s time.
“Every single player in uniform contributed tonight and I’m very proud of our guys,” Doty said.
ESU will next play at Fort Hays State on Thursday.
MWSU 27 41 — 68
ESU 35 46 — 81
Missouri Western (7-10, 3-3): Martin 2-4 1-1 5, Eames 6-14 4-4 19, Carroll 5-16 3-4 13, Millhollin 4-12 0-0 11, Baker 1-5 0-0 2, John 6-7 1-1 13, Thames 1-3 0-0 2, Glover 0-5 0-0 0, Mesmacque 0-1 0-0 0, Z. Anderson 1-3 0-0 3, J. Anderson Jr. 0-0 0-0 0.
Emporia State (9-5, 3-2): Bailey 1-3 0-0 3, Van Dyke 1-6 0-0 2, Rottweiler 7-9 0-0 16, Thomas 3-6 5-7 13, Turner 5-12 6-6 18, Owens 3-6 0-0 7, McGuire 2-3 3-4 8, Thiessen 3-5 2-4 9, Fort 2-5 0-0 5, Perkins 0-0 0-0 0.
Three-pointers: MWSU 7-28 (Eames 3-6, Carroll 0-3, Millhollin 3-8, Baker 0-2, Glover 0-5, Mesmacque 0-1, Anderson 1-3); ESU 11-25 (Bailey 1-3, Van Dyke 0-3, Rottweiler 2-4, Thomas 2-3, Turner 2-3, Owens 1-2, McGuire 1-2, Thiessen 1-2, Fort 1-3).
Rebounds: MWSU 32 (Eames 6), 42 (Bailey 11) ; Assists: MWSU 13 (Carroll 6), ESU 18 (Thomas 7).
Technical Fouls: MWSU: Millhollin, Martin, ESU: Van Dyke; Fouled Out: None.