Kearney, Neb. – Junior forward AJ Jackson scored a career-high 22 points and grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds to help Nebraska-Kearney beat Fort Hays State, 59-56, Saturday evening at the Health & Sports Center.
This was the 131st meeting between the two longtime rivals. UNK (7-13, 2-9) is now 6-8 in games decided by 10 points or less with Hays (13-7, 7-4) falling to 7-4 in such contests. Back in early December the Tigers posted a 76-73 win over the Lopers.
UNK’s only deficit was at 2-0 but they never also led by more than 10 points. A plus six rebounding margin led to 13 second chance points as the Lopers led 33-27 at the break and 53-43 with 4:38 to play.
Forcing a couple of turnovers on inbounds plays, the Tigers went on a 10-4 run over the next four minutes to make things interesting. Down 57-53 with 18 seconds left and the ball, Hays missed a three but grabbed the offensive rebound. However, junior guard Chase Winchester (DeSoto, Texas) recorded a steal and two free throws salted things away. Guard Aaron Nicholson did sink about a 65 footer as the buzzer sounded to provide the final points.
Jackson (Bellevue West) was on point from opening tip and reached his offensive total by making 8 of 12 shots and 6 of 8 free throws. Having five offensive and five defensive rebounds, he also had an assist and one of UNK’s five blocks. Jackson’s previous career-high point total of 15 happened back in November at Wayne State and this is his second career double double.
Next, Winchester came off the bench and went 3 of 4 from behind the arc to tally 11 with freshman Kanon Koster (Kearney) scoring 11 of his 13 in the second half. Finally, posts Weston Baker Magrath (Marshall, Minn.) and Carter Burns (Ankeny, Ia.) helped limit Hays forward Brady Werth in check. He came in averaging 16 points but was limited to 11 tonight on 5 of 14 shooting. He picked up two early fouls and logged 28 minutes.
“Having played them once this year, we kind of know what to expect but you still have to go out and play. We came out and probably did a few things better this time around than at their place,” said Loper head coach Kevin Lofton. “We were able to beat a good team at home and we have a few more here we need to win.”
Nicholson carried the Tigers early and finished with a team-high 15 points on 6 of 9 (3 of 4 threes) shooting. Reserve Devin Davis had 11 points and six boards in just 15 minutes while the Tigers finished the night 22 of 59 (37%) from the field.
UNK heads to Missouri Southern State and Pittsburg State next weekend.
Kearney, Neb. – The sixth-ranked Fort Hays State Tigers closed on a 49-19 run to rally past Nebraska-Kearney in overtime, 74-64, Saturday afternoon at the Health & Sports Center.
The Tigers improve to 19-1 (10-1) and beat the Lopers (12-8, 5-6) in OT for the third time in the last eight meetings.
UNK dominated the first 25 minutes, opening up a 45-25 lead midway through the third quarter. At this point in the game the Lopes were shooting 50 percent from the field with the Tigers firing blanks and hovering around 22 percent. However, 16 offensive rebounds and 25 Kearney turnovers gave Hays life as well as 19 more shot attempts.
A three from freshman Shiloh McCool (Pleasant Hill, Ia.) didn’t drop at the 4:42 mark of the third and UNK up 20. The Tigers responded with a quick three in transition to start an epic 28-6 run. This spurt featured seven made threes; Hays finished 9 of 31 from downtown.
During this stretch, freshman guard Klaire Kirsch (Rapid City, SD) was sidelined with foul trouble and sophomore guard Kelsey Sanger (Crofton) was out due to injury. UNK’s leader in several areas, she left at the 6:34 mark of the third and didn’t return. Starting guard Adreon Bell (Independence, Mo.) also missed several minutes in the third due to a leg cramp but she came back in the fourth.
“When two of your starting guards go out it changes the complexity of everything. We were scrambling a little bit, playing some people out of position. Offensively we got out of rhythm and defensively our communication broke down. Kelsey and Klaire are our best two communicators on defense … we had some confusion and let them hit some transition threes. That got them going and gave them some confidence,” said Loper head coach Carrie Eighmey.
Now down 53-51 with 5:29 left, UNK regrouped to move ahead 59-56 by the 1:12 mark thanks to a mid-range jumper by senior Jaymie Bernbeck (Garden City, Kan.). Hays senior Tatyana Legette countered with a bucket and then McCool missed two contested shots in the paint with 30 seconds left. Junior Kacey Kennett was fouled soon after but missed the second one, giving UNK a chance. A three from the left wing by freshman Elisa Backes (Salina, Kan.) was just long right before the buzzer sounded.
Hays never trailed in overtime, moving ahead 66-61 by the three minute mark. The Lopers had a chance to tie things up at 66 but a McCool jumper hit iron with 56 seconds left and then the Tigers were strong at the line.
“We never let them have an easy look until that run in third. Kelsey is the backbone of our defense and she has a lot more experience and a calming presence about her. She was guarding one of the players that went off late,” said Eighmey.
Legette had 23 of her game-high 25 points after intermission with Kennett tallying 18 of her 20 in the second half and overtime. The duo combined to go 13 of 28 (6 of 12) from the field, 13 of 19 at the line, and provide 12 rebounds, five steals and three assists.
Hays shot just 32 percent (25 of 78) from the field and was out rebounded by a 48-43 margin. They overcame that by having 18 second chance points and 15 points off those 25 Loper miscues.
“We let Kennett have four or five open looks in the second half and she started hitting them. Early in the game those shots weren’t quite that easy,” said Eighmey. “Tatyana is a really good player. Every time we play them they go to her late in games because she can produce.”
Making 46 percent of its field goals (27 of 48), UNK finished with four made treys and a 40-28 advantage in points in the paint. A balanced attack saw seven different players in the scoring column led by 16 from freshman post Brooke Carlson (Elkhorn). Next, McCool grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds and scored eight points with starting forward Maegan Holt (Council Bluffs, Ia.) at 10 points and five caroms.
UNK heads to Missouri Southern State and nationally-ranked Pittsburg State next weekend.