Hawks’ six-game win streak ends at hands of Bearcats as Nelson plays role of 3-point sniper

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Quincy University forward Mason Wujek, left, puts up a shot while being defended by Southwest Baptist's Noah Franklin during Saturday's Great Lakes Valley Conference game at Pepsi Arena. | Photo courtesy Denny Sinnock, QU Athletics

QUINCY — Having only one day to prepare for Southwest Baptist University wasn’t enough.

Playing less than 48 hours after pulling away late for a hard-fought victory over Rockhurst, the Quincy University men’s basketball team was unable to effectively defend SBU’s motion offense and was repeatedly burned by reigning Great Lakes Valley Conference Player of the Year Quinn Nelson.

The 6-foot-3 guard hit seven of his nine 3-point attempts, often blunting QU charges, to score a game-high 26 points as SBU shot 51 percent from the field and 52 percent from 3-point range to hold on for an 81-79 victory Saturday afternoon in Pepsi Arena.

The loss snapped the Hawks’ six-game winning streak, but they remain tied for first place in the GLVC with Missouri-St. Louis and Indianapolis. The 24th-ranked Greyhounds toppled the 11th-ranked Tritons 77-70 Saturday at home to create a logjam atop the league standings.

Meanwhile, SBU, the defending regular-season GLVC champion coming off a last-second overtime loss Thursday to Illinois-Springfield, improved to 12-4 overall and 4-4 in league play.

“I hate the one-day preps in this league,” QU coach Steve Hawkins said after his team dropped to 10-6 overall and 6-2 in the GLVC. “That’s a good basketball team. We needed more reps to guard what they do.

“We didn’t communicate well, and we screwed up on about every switch defensively. (Nelson) was the player of the year last year and you could see why, but we did not do a good job on him. He seemed to have the answer every time we came crawling back.”

Despite the defensive shortcomings, the Hawks had a chance to send the game into overtime in the waning seconds.

With SBU nursing an 81-78 lead, Nelson was unable to convert a contested, reverse back door layup as the shot clock was about to expire with just under 10 seconds remaining. QU’s Zion Richardson grabbed the rebound and raced down the court to launch a 3-point try from the left wing that bounced off the rim.

Quincy University guard Zion Richardson, right, launches a 3-point attempt late in regulation Saturday during the Hawks’ 81-78 loss to Southwest Baptist at Pepsi Arena. | Photo courtesy Denny Sinnock, QU Athletics

Malik Hardmon came down with the rebound and was fouled with a half-second left. He made the first free throw and intentionally missed the second. Richardson dove across the lane from the left block to get his hands on the rebound, but his underhanded flip toward the rim as time expired fell short.

“In a two-point game, you can point to anything,” Hawkins said. “Missed free throws, rebounds you didn’t come up with, a call here or there. It only takes a couple to go your way and you win.”

The Hawks led only four times in the game — for a combined 3 minutes, 23 seconds — and never by more than a point.

They missed 10 of their first 13 shots from the field and continually gave the Bearcats second-chance opportunities and wide-open looks to fall behind 23-14 with 8:49 left in the first half after back-to-back 3-pointers by Drew McMillin.

Yet, despite being outrebounded 21-12, QU clawed back to trail just 39-35 at the half largely because it turned the ball over only twice in the opening 20 minutes while forcing SBU into nine turnovers.

A fallaway 3-pointer by guard Isaiah Foster gave the Hawks a 49-48 lead with about 14 minutes remaining, but the Bearcats scored the next seven points to go up 55-49, the last on a pull-up 3-pointer by Nelson in transition from the left wing.

“(Nelson) has a quick release, but we gave him more shots than we should have,” Hardmon said. “We knew they were going to have a lot of off-ball movement with cuts and screens. Too many blunders on our part and it cost us big time.”

QU moved within 59-58 on a pull-up jumper by Paul Zilinskas, who finished with 13 points, only to see SBU again rattle off seven straight points.

But a conventional three-point play by Mason Wujek, a 3-pointer by Richardson, a Hardmon putback and a 3-pointer by Foster gave the Hawks a 69-68 lead with less than six minutes to go.

Again, they were unable to increase the advantage.

Nelson, of course, answered with a jumper from the circle to move the Bearcats back in front. The teams were tied at 72 and again at 75. Noah Franklin hit two free throws and then emerged from a scrum underneath his own basket for a layup after it appeared the Hawks had come up with the defensive stop to give SBU a 79-75 lead.

Richardson, who scored 15 points, answered with a 3-pointer from right of the circle to trim the deficit to 79-78, but two more free throws from Franklin with 53.9 seconds left restored the Bearcats’ three-point cushion. Hardmon then had the ball stripped after being swarmed on the low block to set the stage for the final half-minute.

SBU outrebounded QU, which entered the game as the league’s best in that category, 38-31. The Hawks also missed eight of 25 free throws and shot just 43 percent from the field.

“A tough loss,” said Hardmon, who finished with a team-high 17 points and 10 rebounds. “But we have to bounce back because we have another tough one Monday. We know we’re still in this. We’re still in a good spot.”

The Hawks host Drury on Monday night, a team they defeated 67-64 on Dec. 10. They play UMSL on the road Thursday before returning home to play Missouri S&T next Saturday, extending a challenging stretch.

“We didn’t play well against Rockhurst, but in the last four minutes we found a way to win,” Hawkins said. “We did what we had to do to win that game.

“We had a streak going, which the fans and media make a big deal out of, but we’re still making mistakes. When you’re winning, it makes you feel like you’re playing well, even when you’re not.”

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