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Wayne Cavadi | NCAA.com | October 28, 2019

How Northwest Missouri State nearly beat No. 4 Duke in a college basketball exhibition

Northwest Missouri State claims the 2019 DII Men's Basketball Championship

The DII men's basketball reigning champion Northwest Missouri State Bearcats went into Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 26 and lost to the Duke Blue Devils, 69-63.

If there's one thing we learned in this six-point loss is that Northwest Missouri State is scary good. So much so, that the Bearcats put a scare into the preseason No. 4 team in Division I college basketball. 

PRESEASON RANKINGS: Northwest Missouri State tops the NCAA.com 2019-2020 top 25

Here are the three biggest takeaways we learned Saturday night.

The Bearcats defense is legit

This wasn't the first time Northwest Missouri State played Duke. After the Bearcats won the 2017 DII men's basketball national championship, they headed to Durham, North Carolina for an exhibition bout. They lost that one, 93-60. 

DII vs. DI schedule: Track every exhibition game through the 2019-20 season

That was the general trend at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke would host some top-tier DII teams and win in dominating fashion. How dominating, you ask? Looking back at the past three seasons, Duke has played two DII teams in each preseason, winning those six games by a total of 316 points. The Blue Devils have hosted the defending champion each year as well, defeating Augustana (SD) by 53 in 2016, Northwest Missouri State by 33 in 2017, and Ferris State by 84 in 2019. 

That's how impressive the six-point loss is. Duke shot just 42.2 percent from the floor and an ugly 12.5 percent from beyond the arc. And get this: The Bearcats trailed by as much as 19, and never went away. In fact, they played Duke even, 41-41, in the second half.

Trevor Hudgins is an absolute stud

We didn't learn that Saturday night. But anyone who was on hand at The Ford Center in Evansville, Indiana for Hudgins three-game run in the 2019 DII Men's Elite Eight learned quickly the then-freshman was the ideal player to lead this Bearcats' charge in a Most Outstanding Player performance.

Apparently, there are no concerns of a sophomore slump.

Hudgins not only led all Bearcat scorers, he led ALL scorers — including Duke. You know, the team that annually has one of the best recruiting classes in all of college basketball? Hudgins scored 27, shooting 9-for-18 and an absurd 7-for-13 from downtown.

This team is in very good hands for the coming season with Hudgins, but Ryan Hawkins' performance is also noteworthy. Last year at the Elite Eight, he was our X-factor to the Bearcats winning it all: the guy that was on a team of stars that seemingly did everything right all the time. He showed why at Cameron, scoring 16 points and pulling down nine boards.

The Bearcats haven't lost a step from the undefeated 2019 run

Last year in Evansville, sitting at the podium after recording the fifth perfect season in DII men's basketball history, head coach Ben McCollum joked that the Bearcats had practice the next day. 

THE 2019-20 SEASON: Opening weekend schedule

Maybe he wasn't joking.

Despite losing Joey "Buckets" Witthus, the Bearcats return the core of that 38-0 team, including the role players who make this team go. And on top of that, they look like they are in midseason form. We'll find out a lot more Friday, Nov. 1 when the Bearcats open the 2019-20 DII men's basketball season in the Small College Basketball Hall of Fame Classic.

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