Click here to listen to the podcast
Kearney, Neb. – Five players scored in double figures and Nebraska-Kearney closed on a 14-7 run to slip past Southwest Baptist, 84-77, in an MIAA Tournament first round game Tuesday night at the Health & Sports Center.
The sixth-seeded Lopers (16-13) reach the quarterfinals for a fifth straight season where they’ll take on the third-seeded Washburn Ichabods (20-8). Tip time is set for noon on Friday in Kansas City.
UNK and SBU (12-17) split the season series with each team winning on its home court. The Lopers bested the Bearcats, 80-62, this past Friday but things were much tougher tonight as they were 14 lead changes and 12 ties. Both squads led for 17 minutes and neither held a lead bigger than nine points until the very end.
Down eight to start the second half, the Lopers tied things up by the 12 minute mark and it was a back and forth affair from there. UNK, struggling from behind the arc most of the night, hit three in a three-minute span to lead 68-65 with 5:05 left. However, SBU post Damian Prgomet converted a three-point play to knot things up for the 11th time.
It was all tied at 70 when a timeout was called with 3:46 left. That’s when UNK took over, making five of six free throws to open up a 75-70 lead by the 2:30 mark. During this stretch, SBU missed a put back layup and the front end of a one-and-one.
The preverbal nail was put into the ‘Cat coffin when sophomore reserve forward Kyle Juhl (Harlan, Ia.) hit a wide open three from the left corner to cap an 8-0 run. SBU didn’t get closer than five points the rest of the way.
“In the second half, we were able to get stops, we rebounded better and picked up the tempo. We went with a three-quarters court press just to get them off balance. On our pick and roll defense, we were able to pin it to a side and force their guards into some tougher decisions which led to some turnovers,” said Loper head coach Kevin Lofton.
UNK tied it season in steals with 12 and that effort led to 23 points off 18 SBU turnovers. The Lopers also grabbed 14 offensive rebounds which turned into 18 second chance points. Entering tonight, Kearney was averaging six steals and eight o-boards a night.
“We tell them offensive rebounds are like gold this time of year. Those are extra possessions and any time you can get one in a game like this it can be huge. Unfortunately, they were having more success in the first half in that area,” said Lofton. “We got into transition with our defense in the second half and that more than anything turned the game around.”
Also making 27 of 38 free throws (71 percent), UNK ended with five made threes and got scoring from seven different players. Sophomore forward AJ Jackson (14) and freshman reserve post Weston Baker Magrath (15) had career-high point totals as they combined to go 13 of 14 from the field. Jackson (Bellevue West) record his third straight double figure game while Baker Magrath (Marshall, Minn.) had two blocks and five rebounds (four offensive).
“For Weston, that’s the kid we recruited. He was dominant in the paint, scored over either shoulder, got key rebounds for us, blocked some shots. If he can be that guy moving forward, it really helps us out,” said Lofton. “AJ has just been steady eddy. Over the last seven or 10 games, he’s been super consistent. He brings a lot of energy and effort to the table.”
Thanks to a 12 of 14 effort at the line, senior forward Trey Lansman (Harlan, Ia.) tallied 21 points. He also handed out five assists and pulled down four rebounds. Next, senior guard Ty Danielson (York) made all six freebies he attempted to tally 13 with junior guard Isaiah McKay (Brooklyn Park, Minn.) finishing with 10 on two made treys.
“It was a grind for Trey just like it was last Friday against these guys. Luckily, he got it going and when we go through him good things happen,” said Lofton. “It was a quiet 21 but we needed every one of them.”
For SBU, Progment had 15 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks with guard Chris Rossow, the MIAA Freshman of the Year, at 14 points, eight dimes and six rebounds. Finally, junior wing Karim Mouliom had 14 points and five boards coming off the bench.
The Bearcats had eight blocks, went 9 of 22 from the three point line, shot 46 percent from the field and pulled down 13 offensive rebounds. However, seven second half turnovers led to 14 UNK points.
Washburn, led by now three-time MIAA Defensive Player of the Year Brady Skeens, handed the Loper losses by scores of 78-71 (Topeka) and 87-73 (Kearney) this year.
“It’s a bit of role reversal; last year we beat Washburn three times. Hopefully we can go down there and find a way to get one against them. They are a good team and playing really well,” said Lofton. “We have to do a better job defensively and on the boards.”