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Kearney, Neb. – Junior reserve guard Chase Winchester had 13 points and three steals in the second half to help Nebraska-Kearney pull away from the Colorado School of Mines Orediggers, 67-60, Sunday afternoon at the Health & Sports Center.
The Lopers improve to 3-2 and end a seven-game losing streak to Mines (1-3). UNK hadn’t beaten the ‘Diggers since a 66-57 home decision in December 2011.
It was a defensive struggle in the first half as the teams combined for 49 points on 20 of 61 (32.7 pct.) shooting. Mines led 21-10 at the eight minute mark with the Lopers quickly catching up thanks to a 13-2 spurt. Back-to-back threes by freshman reserve wing Henry Penner (Aurora) tied things at 23 with 4:20 remaining.
“We got stagnant in the first half, we didn’t move well and had poor shot selection. We’re not going to have success when that happens,” said Loper head coach Kevin Lofton. “When we put that second unit in, we got stops on the defensive end and got up and down the floor. They figured out it out from that point on.”
Winchester (DeSoto, Texas) entered the game at the 13:54 mark of the second half and with UNK trailing 36-31. He quickly hit a corner three to tie things up and then converted a reverse layup after recording his first steal. That made it 38-36 and Kearney never trailed again.
“That’s the kid we recruited, that’s the kid we saw on film, that’s the kid we heard a lot about. He was aggressive, efficient, made better decisions, guarded better. If we can get that out of him moving forward that would be big shot in the arm for us,” said Lofton.
Having four starters reach double figures the ‘Diggers hung around, never letting the deficit get bigger than seven points. A shot in the paint by reserve forward Austin Means cut the Loper lead to 50-48 with 4:40 left. UNK finally put the nail in the coffin when Penner responded with a triple and Winchester did the same at the 3:08 mark. That made it 58-48 and the Lopers closed things out with five made free throws.
UNK’s bench tallied 29 points, 20 in the second half, with Winchester reaching his total thanks to 5 of 7 (3 of 4 threes) shooting. Logging 14 minutes, the lefty also had an assist and defensive board besides his points and steals. Next, Penner hit threes to tally 11 in 24 minutes with true freshman guard Parker Badding (Carroll, Ia.) sinking a first half triple and making two late freebies to score five.
The Lopers were out rebounded by two, 39-37, facing a taller Mines team. UNK shot 41% (23 of 56) from the field that including a solid 8 of 17 effort from behind the arc. Both teams had five blocks and both struggled a bit from the line (combined 23 of 34).
Besides the bench, freshman Kanon Koster (Kearney H.S.) led UNK in scoring for a fifth straight contest and recorded his second consecutive double double (17 points & 12 rebounds). He grabbed 11 defensive caroms and was 9 of 12 at the line. Among other starters, junior forward AJ Jackson (Bellevue West) had seven rebounds, four points and two blocks.
“Kanon has been aggressive and is doing a great job of finishing defensive possessions with boards. He’s getting us into transition and gets us going downhill,” said Lofton.
UNK is now off until Tuesday, November 27, when it plays at Wayne State.