MARYVILLE, MO -- The No. 2-ranked Northwest Missouri State men's basketball team had six players in double-figure scoring and rode 63.2% shooting from the floor in a comfortable 94-69 NCAA first-round tournament victory over the Southern Arkansas Muleriders in Bearcat Arena.
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The Bearcats put up a season-high 94 points as they surpassed the 90-point mark for the third time this season. Northwest knocked in 36-of-57 shots from the floor to shoot 60% or better for the sixth time in this campaign. The Bearcats buried 9-of-18 from three-point land, while also enjoying a scoring advantage of 54-28 on points in the paint.
SAU, the No. 8 seed in the Central Region tournament on the strength of winning the Great American Conference tournament, finished the season with a 22-10 record.
The Bearcats moved to 31-2 overall and won their 17th straight game this season. Northwest won its 18th straight NCAA Tournament game and produced a victory for the 24th time in 25 NCAA games. Northwest has won 14 of its last 16 opening-round NCAA Tournament contests.
Senior Diego Bernard collected his 22nd career 20-point game with a 21-point effort on 8-of-11 shooting from the floor. Bernard added six assists, five rebounds and a steal. Bernard buried both of his three-point shots in the victory.
Freshman Bennett Stirtz was as efficient as he's been all season with 18 points on 8-of-10 field goals. Stirtz tossed in four assists, three rebounds and two steals in 38 minutes of action.
Junior Wes Dreamer buried a trio of three-pointers en route to an 18-point night. Dreamer has scored 13 or more points in 11 consecutive games.
Junior Luke Waters reached double-figure scoring for only the second time in 14 games. Waters sank all three of his three-point attempts and finished 4-of-5 from the floor altogether. Waters registered 11 points, three assists and two rebounds off the bench.
Sophomore Daniel Abreu went 5-of-7 from the floor and tallied 12 points to go along with four rebounds and two steals in nearly 13 minutes of action.
Sophomore Byron Alexander knocked in all four of his field goal attempts and went 2-of-3 at the line to score 10 points.
Northwest led for 36:44 of the contest, while SAU held the lead for 1:44. The lead changed times six times – all in the first half.
The Bearcats held a 46-35 lead at the half. Northwest took its first 20-point lead of the game on a dunk by Stirtz with 15:14 left that gave the Bearcats a 61-40 advantage. Northwest would extend its largest lead to 29 points at 94-65 with 2:16 remaining.
Gregory Hammond Jr. led SAU with 20 points and 7 rebounds against the Bearcats, who are the defending NCAA Division II national champions. He was 8-16 in field goals and hit two 3-pointers. Jerry Carraway Jr. had 15 points, including two 3 pointers. LaTreavin Black had 10 points, including 6-9 free throws.
Also scoring for SAU were Blake Rogers with 7, Carel Ray Jr. with 6 points and 7 rebounds, Kris Wyche, Brock Schreiner and Jessie Davis Jr. with 3, and Devonta Walker with 2.
SAU was 24-53 (45.3 percent) from the field and hit 7-19 threes (36.8 percent). The Muleriders downs 14-22 free throws (63.6 percent).
Northwest will meet No. 15-ranked Southern Nazarene in Sunday's second Central Region semifinal set to tip at 7:30 p.m. in Bearcat Arena. No. 7 seeded Emporia State will take on No. 6 seeded Minnesota Duluth in Sunday's first semifinal at 5 p.m.