Kearney, Neb. – Freshman guard Manaia Timson scored a season-high 20 points and Missouri Western State closed on an 16-6 run to upset Nebraska-Kearney, 60-57, Monday night in an MIAA Tournament first round game at the Health & Sports Center.
The 12th-seeded Griffons (12-17) advance to the quarterfinals where they’ll face fourth-seed Central Oklahoma (22-6) Thursday night. UNK, seeded fifth in the tournament, ends the year at 21-7.
The Lopers had lived the entire season on edge, seemingly winning every game that went down to the wire thanks to many a fourth quarter rally. At one point in the season, UNK was 11-0 in games decided by 10 points or less; the final count for the year is now 13-4.
“Part of their game plan was to take the air out of the ball and limit possessions. We took 53 shots; last time we played them we took 43 (UNK averaged 61 shots per game for the year). We tried to speed it up by pushing it in transition and create some defensive opportunities. We forced 10 turnovers in the first half (13 overall) but they are a good defensive team. That’s what they do well,” said UNK head coach Carrie Eighmey.
Tonight, UNK had five different seven point leads, including three in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t shake a Mo West team decimated by roster attrition. Starting the year 9-2, the Griffs played all five starters 40 minutes in a 55-49 setback at UNK in January. They used three reserves for a total of 26 minutes tonight.
Down 51-44 with 6:53 to go, the Griffs tied things up at 54 thanks to a layup by 6-2 junior post Dossou Ndiaye. That came at the 3:33 mark and was followed by two missed free throws by the Lopers 20 seconds later. Uncharacteristically, UNK went 3 of 9 from the line in the fourth quarter.
Senior guard Savannah Lenz nailed a triple with 2:55 left to give Mo West the lead for good. Neither squad scored again until there was 31 seconds remaining. During this stretch, UNK missed three shots and two free throws.
“It was a game of limited possessions and you need to be able to score in the possessions you do have,” said Eighmey. “They did a good job on Michaela (Barry), making sure she didn’t get any easy stuff. If we brought a ball screen to her, they would hard hedge her. Every time she drove it, they brought bodies to her. It was good strategy.”
The Lopers had two chances to tie the game but went 1 for 3 at the line after being fouled on a three point attempt with 31 seconds left. Mo West subsequently hit two free throws and then UNK got a quick layup from senior McKenzie Brown (G.I. Northwest) to keep it a one possession game.
Timson, all the way from New Zealand, went 1 for 2 at the line with graduate transfer Alyssa Frauendorfer (Humphrey) rebounding the miss. With only seven seconds remaining, UNK moved the ball down court but a potential three from the corner was contested and sophomore guard Jenna Gillespie (Holdrege) tried a baseline runner instead. It missed and Mo West grabbed the rebound and ran out the clock.
“It’s disappointing. Down the stretch of so many games this year we’ve been able to hit free throws and almost be perfect. We just didn’t hit them today,” said Eighmey. “In a tight game there’s a small margin of error. Because they were pounding us inside, we went zone on a couple of possessions and a kid that’s hit only a couple of threes all year makes three. Stuff like that is difficult to control.”
Timson came in shooting 27 percent from the field and with a total of 53 points (1.9 per game). She made up for lost time by making 5 of 8 shots (3 of 4 threes) and 7 of 8 free throws. Timson had made only six threes prior to tonight and was shooting 47 percent from the line.
A bigger Griffon team out rebounded the Lopers 36-26 and that led to a 17-8 advantage in second chance points. UNK did have a 21-5 advantage in points off turnovers but finished 7 of 14 the line and made five fewer threes than the Griffs, 7-2.
Besides Timson, starting guards Melia Richardson (16) and Lentz (11) scored in double figures with Ndiaye (nine points and nine rebounds) close to a double double. Reserve post Cera Ledbetter (four points, three assists and eight rebounds) also was productive.
Nine Lopers scored with Brown (13) leading the way. In her final game in a UNK uniform, she was 5 of 12 (1 of 3 threes) from the field and also grabbed four boards. Brown ends with 1,350 career points, good for 12th on the all-time list.
Next, senior guard Michaela Barry (Battle Creek) had nine points, five rebounds and two assists. She ends up with 925 points at UNK, good for 29th on the all-time list. Finally among the veterans, Frauendorfer worked around foul trouble to have nine points, three rebounds, two assists and a block.
Also for UNK, Crofton freshman Kelsey Sanger went all 40 minutes and had five points, four rebounds (two offensive), two assists and two steals with Kansas junior Jaymie Bernbeck at eight points, five boards and two steals. Off the bench, Lincoln junior Kennedy Sander had seven points in seven minutes.
“Our seniors did a really good job for us this year. We told the entire how proud of them we are. How far they came and how much we enjoyed coaching them. I think they played the game right; played really hard on both ends of the floor and shared the ball and played well together. Makes for a fun team to watch,” said Eighmey.