Missouri Western defeated Rockhurst 68-58 in a physical game at the MWSU Fieldhouse Saturday. Western improves to 4-0 on the season and 35-5 all time at the Hillyard Classic.
“I’m really happy with tonight,” coach Tom Smith said. “I thought this team was way more physical than William Jewell, and I was concerned about that toughness with us, and I think we weathered their toughness and pulled away late.”
The Griffons fell behind 12-4 after Rockhurst was hot to start the game. After Smith called a timeout, James Harris hit a deep 3-point shot to put the score at 12-7 and help give Western the momentum to get back in the game.
“They were physical in the beginning,” Harris said. “We kind of came out shaky, so we had to come together as a family and just ‘d’ up as a team.”
The Griffons were down 20-15 with 11 minutes to play in the first half when T.J. Johnson made the layup and got fouled on two consecutive trips down the court. Johnson converted both free throws, and Western took their first lead of the game at 21-20.
“We play physical everyday,” Johnson said. “Coach doesn’t call fouls because he knows we will come out here and get roughed up, so we just play through it.”
Rockhurst held a 33-31 lead at the halftime break after its bench outscored the Western bench 16-5 in the first frame.
The two teams went back-and-forth in the second half until a pair of Johnson free throws and a 3 point play by Lavonte Douglas put the Griffons on top 57-52. James Harris hit six free throws in the final minute of the game to seal the ten point victory for Western.
“We protected our home court, played hard on defense and we found our offense tonight,” Johnson said.
Johnson scored 22 points on 6-for-12 from the field and 9-for-11 from the free throw line. He also added five rebounds and four assists.
Harris scored 22 points on 6-for-13 from the field and 4-for-7 from the free throw line. Harris added six rebounds and dished out four assists. Harris had been unable to get hot from deep in the first three games but broke that trend against the Hawks.
“They were in a zone, so we just had to spot up move the ball quickly and penetrate the gaps and that got us open shots,” said Harris. “Good shooters never stop shooting; Coach just tells me to keep shooting and flick my wrist. I couldn’t get down on myself, just had to keep shooting.”
Shawn Tarver was cleaning the glass all night long, leading the Griffons with 12 rebounds.
The Griffons play their next game in San Antonio, Texas at the Red River Shootout. Western will take on Southeastern Oklahoma State Friday and St. Mary’s Saturday.