Men’s basketball falls in finals to Bearcats but secures tournament spot


Jesse Bruner

Washburn guard Michael Keegan (left) and guard Tyler Geiman (right) reach for the ball Sunday, Mar. 6, 2022, at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Missouri. Washburn fell to Northwest Missouri State 84-76 in the game.

For a second straight season, Washburn men’s basketball faced off with Northwest Missouri State in the MIAA conference tournament finals.

This time there was no 73-foot shot as they came out on the other end, dropping the game 84-76.

“I am proud of our guys, congrats to Northwest. It was a tough game, we had some opportunities to make some plays and didn’t take advantage and sometimes that happens but we competed and it’s nothing to hang our heads about,” said head coach Brett Ballard.

A win would have guaranteed the 21-10 Ichabods a spot in the NCAA tournament, but they were still able to claim the final at-large bid, entering as the No. 7 seed in the central region.

“The way these guys have played the last two months I would say we are certainly one of the best teams in the country right now,” Ballard said.

All Ballard was hoping for was an opportunity to continue coaching the team and group of departing players, headlined by senior guard Tyler Geiman and junior guard Jalen Lewis.

“To not have a bad day over the course of four years with either one of these guys, it says a lot about the type of people they are,” Ballard said. “These guys embody everything that you want in a student-athlete, their character, their heart, their toughness.”

Both were also named to the all-tournament team at the conclusion of the game.

“Definitely feel blessed to be in this situation, a lot of good teams in this league, but I think that is kind of a team award … the team has a lot to do with that,” Geiman said.
Each also reflected on their time at Washburn with the possibility that it could have been the final game for both of them.

“I am really fortunate to be able to play here, play in this program for the past four years,” Lewis said.

Even after the championship loss, Washburn will move on and face No. 2 Minnesota Duluth in the NCAA Tournament beginning Mar. 12 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

For a fan of basketball, the game began exactly how you would want, with neither team creating more than four points of separation through the first nine minutes.

The post players on each team led a balanced scoring attack. For the Ichabods, it was junior forward Jonny Clausing with six early points inside, and for the Bearcats, sophomore Luke Waters knocked down two 3-pointers.

Just under the nine-minute mark, sophomore Tyler Nelson scored five straight points off the bench for Washburn, who would go up by five during the stretch.

Sophomore guard Connor Deffebaugh quickly knocked down a 3-pointer, which was followed by free throws from Lewis to put the Ichabods up 30-20 at the 7:30 mark.

Northwest Missouri quickly responded, with a 9-2 run led by Waters and the other post players scoring inside to pull within three with under four to play in the half.

The Bearcats scored the next five points to take a two-point lead which grew to three just before halftime after a layup from Trevor Hudgins putting Northwest Missouri up 38-35.

On the first possession out of the break for Washburn, Geiman knocked down a 3-pointer to tie the game but from that point on the Bearcats took off, going on a 7-0 run.

The lead would grow to double-digits at the 16:28 mark after a layup from Hudgins.

“We let him get to the rim too much,” Ballard said. “Obviously the 3’s are big, but if you take away the layups, you still got a chance. He did a good job attacking … he is a heck of a player,” Ballard said.

A layup from freshman guard Michael Keegan with 13:31 remaining would be his eighth and ninth points of the half and pull the Ichabods within five, which is where the lead would sit as the game neared the 10-minute mark.

Washburn went small, playing with only guards and forwards and under the 10-minute mark it paid off, with a 6-0 run to take a one-point sparked by drives to the basket with an empty lane.
Northwest Missouri reacted and reeled off an 11-2 run in response to go up by as many as eight.

“Five minutes to go we had the lead I believe, and had a couple of looks to kind of extend the lead and they were a little better down the stretch,” Ballard said.

Free throws from Lewis with 3:28 to make the score 73-70, but it did not stay that way as Hudgins went on a personal 7-1 run, putting him over 30 for the game.

The lead was cut to six but never got any lower, with the Ichabods ultimately falling 84-76.

“I am proud of my team, we went through a lot this year,” Ballard said. “I love coaching them and I just want another week with my guys.”

Lewis led Washburn with 17 points, Deffebaugh added 13 and both Geiman and Nelson had 12, with Geiman adding six assists. Keegan also finished in double-figures with 11.

The Ichabods will go to the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in four years that a tournament is held under Ballard.

Edited by: Glorianna Noland, Ellie Walker