Griffons face must-win games

The Missouri Western men's basketball team fell to 5-14 overall and 2-14 in MIAA conference play after falling 67-61 at No. 18 Northwest Missouri State on Saturday. With a spot in the conference tournament on the line, the Griffons must win each of the four remaining games on their schedule. “We are who we are, our record is what it is. We have to win every game,” coach Tom Smith said. “We have four left, two on the road, and all four teams have beaten us. In order for us to make the tournament we would have to win all four of them.” The next contest will be in Jefferson City against Lincoln on Feb. 15, who sits one place ahead of the Griffons in the MIAA standings at 3-13 in conference play and 3-19 overall. Western dropped the first game between the two 66-63 in the final moments at MWSU Fieldhouse and will be looking for revenge against the Blue Tigers, who have lost eight straight games. “I would be surprised if we don't go to Jefferson City on Wednesday and play pretty well,” Smith said. The second must-win on Feb. 18 will feature the Griffons traveling to Kirksville to battle Truman State, who is 4-12 in conference play and 6-17 overall. Truman won the first contest 87-86 in overtime at MWSU Fieldhouse and is on a three-game losing streak. The Griffons will finish the season with Central Missouri on Feb. 22 and Southwest Baptist on Feb. 25. Western dropped a close one in the first game against Southern Baptist 64-61 and were beat 64-48 in Warrensburg by Central. “I think we all feel like the can go to Lincoln and win, we all feel like we can go to Truman and win, and we all feel like we can come home and beat Central Missouri and Baptist,” Smith said. “The difference is what we have to do to do it. There's not going to be any more talking about it because it has to get done.” The Griffons confidence comes from being in nearly every game down to the final buzzer. Western has lost eight games by six points or less. “I think our kids feel like they can win every game,” Smith said. “It's been tough on them to give the kind of effort that they have given and not be particularly successful.” The game at Northwest was another one of those games where the Griffons were close but just couldn't get the win. The Bearcats were forced to hit free throws to avoid Western from winning the game with a late run. “We haven't rolled over and played dead for anybody,” Smith said. “Northwest felt like they were going to have a pretty easy time on Saturday, they didn't. We were down 3 with 16 seconds but we just couldn't quite get that big stop or a free-throw miss that would have made the difference.” Lavonte Douglas led the Griffons in scoring with 14 points, and also pulled down 10 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season, while T.J. Johnson and James Harris scored 13 each. The Griffons can point to offense and not a lack of defensive intensity as the main cause of their losing record. Western ranks fifth in the conference, giving up 67 points per game. “We are as good defensively as we have been in 10 years, I don't care what anybody says,” Smith said. “Unfortunately we are a little short offensively and that's been our downfall; there's no question. We would have won a lot of games in the past if we could hold teams in the 60s.”

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