BOLIVAR, Mo. — The Emporia State men are continuing to make bigger and bigger strides as postseason possibilities draw closer.
That next step was on display Thursday night as the Hornet men sealed an 89-77 win over Southwest Baptist by pulling away with a 12-2 run in the final two-plus minutes.
“We’ve been up (several times when) teams have made runs on us to close the game out,” senior guard Sawyer Glick said. “We huddled up (near) the end and said, ‘This is where we’ve got to buckle in’ ... and we got the job done today.”
The first half was largely spent with both teams jockeying for position. The Hornets and Bearcats each had leads of four or more points, but neither team could get any extensive separation. ESU got 10 first-half points from Aaron McGee as the Hornets collectively shot 50 percent from beyond the arc.
“I think we played the exact same way we’ve played the last four games, with a high level of energy and playing for one another.” ESU head coach Craig Doty said. “They really stretched us out in the first half and got a ton of layups. I thought our defense, despite still giving up a decent percentage in the second half, I still thought it was better. We were forcing them into tougher shots.”
The Bearcats shot 52 percent in each half, but Emporia State, while shooting well in the first half, took it seemingly to another level in the second.
After SBU tied the score at 44 to open the period, the Hornets’ own offense went to work, stretching their lead to 14 heading into the final 10 minutes. Malik Hluchoweckyj had three 3-pointers in a two-minute stretch, while Glick, Hassan Thomas and Julius Jackson all aided in the outburst.
“When we play good defense, it leads to good offense for us,” Glick said. “The second half, we locked in on defense and the shots started falling for us.”
A 10-point advantage with 8:57 to play wasn’t enough, as the Bearcats spent the next four minutes cutting their deficit down to a single possession.
“We knew they weren’t going to lay down on their home court,” Doty said. “But we not only stopped the run, but then we answered it to extend and ultimately get a nice win.”
Three-pointers from Kooper Glick, Thomas and Jackson, along with a perfect 6-for-6 effort at the free-throw line, sealed the game in the final minutes for ESU.
The perimeter proved to be the Hornets’ haven, as ESU shot 55 percent from long range, making 18 trifectas on the night. Sawyer Glick and Jackson made four apiece.
Thomas, after a slow start in the contest, ended up with 20 points and five rebounds, finishing 7-for-12 from the field, including a trio of dunks.
“Hassan’s a great player down (in the paint),” Glick said. “When we get him the ball in strength positions, he’s impossible to stop if they’re not going to send a double (team) at him. When he’s playing like that, everyone else just feeds (on it).”
It was the second win in three games for an ESU team that struggled to develop any consistency through the first half of the season, but has been playing far more steadily in the last couple of weeks.
“If this game was three weeks ago, I don’t know if we close it out (after) they went on that late run,” Doty said. “These guys did it together. I’m very proud of them. We’re seeing progress and that progress is exciting as we continue to get through the stretch run of the season as we’re fighting for our lives for a chance to go to Kansas City in the MIAA Tournament.”
Kam Rowan, though scoring just seven points, also snared a team-best nine boards and dished four assists with five steals. Up and down the lineup, the players found a way to get it done.
“It’s a big win,” Thomas said. “Obviously, you play to win every game, but at this rate we need these wins and at this time of the season we’re meshing, so we need to keep building on this and continue to get better.”
ESU 44 45 — 89
SBU 41 36 — 77
Emporia State (9-12, 4-8): Thomas 7-12 3-4 20, Rowan 2-6 2-2 7, McGee 4-7 0-0 10, S. Glick 5-10 0-0 14, K. Glick 2-8 0-0 5, Hluchoweckyj 3-4 0-0 9, Shell 0-0 0-0 0, Jackson 6-13 6-6 22, Fort 1-1 0-0 2, McCray 0-0 0-0 0.
Southwest Baptist (11-10, 5-7): Rossow 0-3 3-5 3, Mouliom 8-11 9-9 27, Nelson 4-9 0-0 11, Colton 7-12 2-2 18, Rolle 3-7 0-0 6, Williams 0-1 0-0 0, Jahic 1-2 0-0 2, Campbell 3-5 2-2 10.
Three-pointers- ESU (18-33): Thomas 3-5, Rowan 1-2, McGee 2-3, S. Glick 4-8, K. Glick 1-5, Hluchoweckyj 3-3, Jackson 4-7; SBU (9-22): Rossow 0-1, Mouliom 2-5, Nelson 3-5, Colton 2-2, Rolle 0-4, Jahic 0-1, Campbell 2-4.Rebounds- ESU 30 (Rowan 9), SBU 28 (Mouliom 10); Assists- ESU 19 (Rowan 4), SBU 14 (Nelson 4).
Fouled out- ESU: None, SBU: Rolle.