Kearney, Neb. – Seniors Austin Luger and Jake Walker combined for 43 points to help Nebraska-Kearney edge Northeastern State, 72-66, Sunday evening at the Health & Sports Center.
The Lopers improve to 2-5 with its last five games having been decided by a total of 26 points. The RiverHawks, from Tahlequah, Okla., fall to 1-5.
“In the last four and half minutes we made plays down the stretch. A big part of that was (senior reserve guard) RJ Pair who came in energized. We saw a side of him we hadn’t seen in a while … he made some great passes and finished a couple of times. He played with an edge,” UNK head coach Kevin Lofton said. “Guys just fought and clawed and found a way to get it done.”
Walker (Centerville, Utah) scored 18 of his 25 points, tying a career-high, in the first half as UNK opened up a 37-30 cushion heading into the locker room. The sharpshooter made 7 of 13 shots including a 4 of 5 effort from the three-point line. Getting scoring from eight different players with none having more than 11, NSU started the second half on a 17-9 run to grab its second lead on the afternoon. Luger (Alliance) sunk a three to start the half but then UNK tallied just six points over the next seven minutes.
“I was concerned about Jake having 18 at the break. He played almost the entire half so I knew his legs would be a little tired. And when a jump shooter’s legs get tired that’s usually when they start to hit front rim,” Lofton said. “So we knew someone else was going to have to step up and I figured it would be Austin and he responded.”
UNK was down 53-50 at the 8:05 mark before Luger hit a jumper from inside the arc and then Walker followed with his lone second half trey. The quick 5-0 spurt gave the Lopers the lead for good and they moved ahead 68-58 with just over a minute remaining.
“It helped to have Austin step up. He’s done it all year to this point but he made a couple of timely baskets,” Lofton said.
Luger went 7 of 12 from the field over the final 20 minutes to score 16 of his 18. He also finished with a team-best eight rebounds (four offensive). UNK dominated on the glass, having a plus 12 margin which led to 17 second chance points. Also for the Lopers, Lincoln senior guard Sam Morris had 12 points, six boards and five assists with Wahoo sophomore reserve forward Winston Cook having three offensive caroms and a bucket in seven minutes. Finally, Pair had two assists, drew a foul and hit a bucket down the stretch with Walker 9 of 20 (5 of 8 threes) from the floor.
Two ‘Hawk starters and a reserve tallied 11 including post Obi Agu. The lefty from London made 5 of 9 shots in working around an apparent leg injury.
“We hope this is a step in the right direction. Fort Hays left here 0-3 but they got a big win at Kansas State. They’ve now won four in a row,” Lofton said. “Teams that have slow starts (1-5) can turn things around by winning a game like this. They get that monkey off their back and they go.”
The NCAA Division II moratorium runs from December 21-27 (no practices, meeting or games for all sports). The Lopers will resume workouts on December 28 in preparation for a January 7 game at Lincoln.
Kearney, Neb. – Junior Klaire Kirsch scored a career-high 18 points and senior Kelsey Sanger added 17 as Nebraska-Kearney used a big second half to down Northeastern State, 68-56, Sunday afternoon at the Health & Sports Center.
The game was delayed a half hour due to a possible COVID issue within the NSU program. All tests came back negative so the contest went on as scheduled. UNK has its second straight 6-0 start while the RiverHawks, from Tahlequah, Okla., drop to 2-5.
The boisterous ‘Hawks came out on fire, using a full-court press and attacking the paint to lead 20-15 after the first quarter. Getting 14 first half points from sophomore post Zaria Collins, the ‘Hawks led 35-30 at the break as they made 15 of 33 shots (46%). NSU took advantage of 11 UNK first half turnovers, scoring 12 points off those miscues and getting off 13 more shots.
“It was our defense (that got us going). It’s something that’s everyone has been talking a lot about … how good our defense has been,” UNK head coach Carrie Eighmey said. “But I thought we came out today and our defense was not as good as it has been. We put them on the free throw line too much, we were letting them get catches inside the paint a little too easily. The difference in the third was we were able to get some stops and then come down and have good offensive possessions.”
Lopers had held its first five foes under 55 points and flashed that defense in the second half as the ‘Hawks tallied just 21. NSU was just 6 of 24 from the field (25%) with the Lopers committing only four turnovers. Offensively UNK warmed up as well, going 15 of 30 from the floor.
UNK closed the third quarter on an 8-2 run that featured scoring by four different players including Kirsch (Rapid City, S.D.) and Sanger (Crofton). Ahead 51-43 after this spurt, the Lopers quickly grabbed a double digit lead and were up 18 midway through the fourth.
Kirsch, whose previous career-best of 17 came last year vs. NSU, went 7 of 11 from the field and 4 of 6 at the line. As usual she did a little bit of everything to the tune of a team-best nine rebounds, a team-high six assists, and two steals. Sanger sunk both of the Lopers triples and finished 5 of 9 from the floor and 5 of 7 at the line. This is her first double digit effort since having 12 in a win at Fort Hays last February.
The Lopers didn’t allow Collins to score after the break. Senior guard Cenia Hayes finished with a team-high 16 with 10 of that coming in the second half. NSU did have an 18-9 advantage in points off turnovers but UNK’s bench outscored the ‘Hawks, 19-9.
Besides Kirsch and Sanger, Kansas junior Elisa Backes had another big effort off the bench (13 points and seven rebounds) with Iowa junior Maegan Holt at 11 points, three steals and six fouls drawn.
“Klaire and Kelsey gave us a really good boost in the third and fourth quarters,” Eighmey said. “They are probably two of our best at being able to find opportunities within the offense. They are good passes and back cutters … they are probably not going to take the most shots but they usually are efficient.”
The NCAA Division II moratorium runs from December 21-27 (no practices, meetings or games for all sports). The Lopers will resume workouts on December 28 in preparation for a January 7 game at Lincoln.