Kearney, Neb. – Six players scored in double figures as No. 23/25 Missouri Southern State sank 18 three pointers to defeat Nebraska-Kearney, 104-67, Saturday evening at the Health & Sports Center.
This was the regular season finale for both teams. The Lions improve to 23-6 (14-5) and will be the third seed in this year’s MIAA Tournament while the Lopers end at 10-18 (5-14).
Averaging 10 made threes per game on the season, MSSU put on an impressive shooting show to the tune of 18 for 39 (46.2%) from behind the arc. The Lions missed their final four attempts in an effort to break the school record of 20. The 18 makes, however, are believed to be an H & S Center (opened in 1990) record; UNK made 17 in a 2004 win over New Mexico Highlands.
“We tried zone, we tried man … with that group it didn’t really matter. It’s a tough matchup for us and they obviously played very well,” said Loper head coach Kevin Lofton. “Honestly I thought they would cool off at some point. On Thursday Pitt started like that but cooled off. These guys never seemed to and a lot of that has to do with the edge they have. They are fighting for a chance to get into the NCAA Tournament … Hays clipped them Thursday and a loss to us and they are in big trouble.”
UNK tried to stay with the frenetic paced Lions, who are fifth in the latest Central Region rankings, and actually led 16-12 five minutes in. However, Mo Southern followed with a 27-5 run that featured a bevy of triples from several different players. The Lions first 12 shots of the game came from downtown with five falling.
“Our margin for error against teams like that (NCAA-caliber) is so small. We wanted to grind it out and take the shot clock down. We didn’t want to stall; we wanted to make them play defense,” said Lofton. “But our kids got coaxed into their style and we were taking shots quicker than we wanted to. Early on we were making them but as the game went on we stopped and they kept going.”
Junior reserve guard Parker Jennings led a balanced Mo Southern attack with a game-high 23 points thanks to 7 of 8 three point shooting. He made his first seven triples and reached his offensive total in only 26 minutes. Next, sophomore post Cam Martin had a double double (13 points & 12 rebounds) with junior guards Elyjah Clark (15) and Braelon Walker (17) combining for 35 points on 9 of 16 three point shooting.
Shooting well over 60% from the field for most of the game, MSSU ended up at 57.4% (39 of 68). They also had a 45-33 rebounding margin and got 44 bench points.
For UNK, Kansas junior forward Morgan Soucie continued his end-of-the-season torrid pace as he had a team-best 20 points. His eight field goals included two dunks and two triples. Soucie managed 65 points (16.3 avg.) over the last two weeks.
Next, Aurora freshman Henry Penner came off the bench and got close to a double double (nine points & six rebounds) with Kearney freshman Kanon Koster at 12 points, six boards and three assists. His 463 points on the season (16.54 avg.) tie him with Eric Strand for second most by a Loper freshman. The scoring average is third best in UNK history for a first-year player.
Finally, Iowa senior Carter Burns started and conclude his collegiate career with three points, three rebounds and three assists. The four-year Loper was a four-time All-MIAA Academic Honor Roll qualifier.
“Our record might be 10-18 but heck yeah I’m proud of these guys. The fight that these guys showed all year long; we lost good players for key stretches of the season and dropped a bunch of close games during those stretches. But every night these guys kept getting back up,” said Lofton. “We had a five-game stretch where we lost by two, three, four, four and two. It’s easy to get deflated and down on yourself but this team didn’t do that. That’s leadership and it started with Carter and our other upperclassmen.”