Kearney, Neb. – Senior guards Donovan Franklin and Grant Lozoya combined to score 47 points and Pittsburg State closed on an 18-7 run to edge Nebraska-Kearney, 83-75, Thursday night at the Health & Sports Center. The Gorillas improve to 16-11 (9-9) and split the season series with the Lopers (10-17, 5-13). UNK, still minus injured forwards AJ Jackson (Bellevue West) and Austin Luger (Alliance), was eliminated from the MIAA Tournament race Wednesday night after Southwest Baptist upset Lincoln. “We have had our back against the wall all year long. They’ve hung together and had great attitudes. I expect them to come out Saturday and give all they got for our one senior,” said Loper head coach Kevin Lofton. “It’s disappointing … we knew when we lost to Lindenwood and at Central Oklahoma we let a couple of golden opportunities get away from us.” Now 9-12 in games decided by 10 points or less, the Lopers battled back from an early 18-6 hole.
Getting 10 points apiece from junior Morgan Soucie (Oswatomie, Kan.) and freshman Kanon Koster (Kearney) in the first half, UNK tied up at 27 and then trailed by just a 36-34 score at the break. “(Falling behind) has happened all year. I’ll give it to our guys because they’ve been resilient when teams come out like that. It wasn’t like our guys weren’t trying … they were hitting some NBA-type three point shots that were contested. We had to weather the storm but it does take something out of you,” said Lofton. However, the Gorillas started the second half on a 12-4 run to lead by double figures again. The Lopers kept the deficit within arm’s reach and then turned a 63-54 deficit into a 68-65 lead with 6:02 to play. The big run featured a three from freshman Henry Penner (Aurora) and six straight points by junior Chase Winchester (DeSoto, Texas). A Franklin jumper with 2:03 remaining gave the Gorillas a 74-73 lead and they never trailed again. UNK had a chance to tie things up at 78 all but a Penner triple try misfired with 51 seconds remaining. Lozoya, a transfer from Division I Stetson (Fla.), put the nail in the coffin with a deep three 30 seconds later. “They made a couple of plays down the stretch. We missed on a loose ball here, a rebound there, had a turnover. Just the little things you can’t do in the last three minutes of a game and have success,” said Lofton. “This has been a year of close games that haven’t gone our way. You have to get up, keep swinging and competing. And our kids have done that and hopefully that builds character moving forward.” A transfer from Division I Indiana State, Franklin had 23 points, five assists and four rebounds in 37 minutes. Missing the game vs. the Lopers earlier this month due to injury, he made 8 of 16 (3 of 7 threes) shots. Next, Lozoya had a game-high 24 thanks to nine free throws and six field goals (3 of 7 threes). He also managed eight assists, eight rebounds and five steals.
Pitt shot 46% from the field (30 of 66) and 88% (14 of 16) from the line while tallying 19 points off of 16 Loper turnovers. For UNK, Soucie had a career-high 22 points. His previous career-high of 17 came just last Thursday in a win at Northeastern State. Tonight the forward went 8 of 14 from the field and 6 of 7 at the line while adding six rebounds, a block, steal and assist. “He is a testament to what a great attitude and a lot of work can do for you,” said Lofton. Finally, Koster (11), Penner (10) and Iowa junior Kyle Juhl (11) also scored in double figures with both Koster and Juhl having seven rebounds apiece. The Lopers close out the season vs. nationally-ranked Missouri Southern State Saturday afternoon. The Lions are now 22-6 (13-5) after an 89-84 loss at Fort Hays State tonight.
Kearney, Neb. – Four players scored in double figures and Pittsburg State sunk 21 free throws to beat Nebraska-Kearney, 69-59, Thursday evening at the Health & Sports Center. The Gorillas (21-6, 13-6), ranked ninth in the latest Central Region Rankings, sweep the season series from the Lopers (15-11, 8-10) and now lead the all-time series between the two, 27-12. UNK is now tied with Central Oklahoma and Missouri Western State for seventh place in the MIAA standings. The final regular season contest for each comes this Saturday afternoon. Pitt led for 35 minutes and by as many as 16 points but the Lopers, shooting 62% (8 of 13) in the third quarter, hung around. A three from freshman Maegan Holt (Council Bluffs, Ia.) capped a 7-0 run and made it just a 43-39 deficit with 3:49 left in the third. However, Pitt closed the quarter on a 7-2 spurt and then led by at least five points in the fourth. “We had a slow start in the first half. Defensively I didn’t think we were very attentive to some details … I thought we let their shooters get rhythm shots. And obviously they are really good shooters,” said Loper head coach Carrie Eighmey. Sophomore wing Maya Williams got close to a double double (20 points and nine rebounds) to lead the Gorillas with freshman reserve guard Tristan Gegg having 15 points in 15 minutes.
Overall the Pitt reserves amassed 29 points, six boards and five assists. “Anytime you have 13 turnovers in a half you’re in an uphill battle because you don’t have enough offensive possessions. You’re not taking enough shots to score points,” said Eighmey. “We limited our mistakes in the second half and were able to produce some offense. We didn’t change anything … at half time we reemphasized the fundamentals and attention to details.” As a team the Gorillas went 21 of 27 at the line (78%) and overcame an 11-1 hole in second chance points by forcing 13 first half turnovers. Besides Williams and Gegg, junior wing Meghan Maher had 12 points, five boards and five steals and freshman reserve guard Sydnee Craing managed 10 points on five free throws. “We didn’t do a good job of keeping them off the free throw line. You’ve got to be able to defend without fouling,” said Eighmey.
UNK was once again led by freshman forward Shiloh McCool (Pleasant Hill, Ia.) who had a season-high 24 points. Reaching double figures for a sixth straight contest, she had 18 of her points in the second half and went 11 of 17 from the field. She also pulled down a team-best eight rebounds. “She’s a tough competitor and has been playing really well of late on both ends of the floor. In the last two games we’ve asked a lot of her on the offensive end and she’s been able to produce and be efficient,” said Eighemy. Finally for the Lopers, Holt had 15 of her 17 points after the break thanks to 5 of 7 (2 of 3 threes) shooting. This marks her third straight double digit effort. UNK hosts Missouri Southern State on Saturday. The Lions (13-15, 5-13) were blasted by No. 3 Fort Hays State tonight, 79-59.