Kearney, Neb. – Junior Morgan Soucie scored a career-high 17 points and Nebraska-Kearney sunk a season-high 14 three pointers to rally past Northeastern State, 82-75, Thursday night in Tahlequah.
With another close win, the Lopers (10-15, 5-11) keep its MIAA Tournament hopes alive while the streaky RiverHawks fall to 12-13 (6-10). NSU began the year 0-5 in the league, won its next six and have now dropped its last four.
UNK picked up its third road win of the year in the most unlikely of fashions as forwards AJ Jackson (Bellevue West), Weston Baker Magrath(Marshall, Minn.) and Austin Luger (Alliance) played just a combined 20 minutes due to a variety of ailments. NSU thus jumped on the short-handed Lopers by scoring the game’s first 12 points. However, UNK kept the deficit to no more than 13 points and trailed 38-28 at the break.
“Early on they were getting any shot they wanted. They run the dribble drive and even when we stayed in front of the guy he was able to get to the spot on the floor he wanted and make the shot,” said Loper head coach Kevin Lofton. “It wasn’t the start we wanted but we showed some grit again. We got organized a little bit better at halftime and some guys really answered the bell.”
The hole was 52-40 with 14:08 to play when a triple by freshman Kanon Koster (Kearney) started a 10-0 run. Freshman Henry Penner (Aurora) followed with another three while Soucie (Osawatomie, Kan.) had back-to-back buckets in the paint.
“They hard hedge the pick-and-roll. When you hard hedge you usually can have the screener slip out. We just kept having (Morgan) slip out and then we left a shooter like Kyle or Henry in the corner,” said Lofton.
NSU got the lead back to seven by the eight minute mark but then junior forward Kyle Juhl (Harlan, Ia.) went nuclear. He made five of his six threes in the final 6:51 to turn a seven-point hole into a six-point cushion, 73-67. Finishing with 18 points, a couple of Juhl’s treys were from Tulsa.
Playing its 19th game decided by 10 points or less, UNK of course had to sweat it out. NSU star guard Caleb Smith drilled back-to-back threes to make it a two-point Loper lead, 75-73, with 2:03 left. Koster then blocked a shot about a minute later and made two free throws on the next possession to open up some breathing room. Five of six free throw shooting by the Lopers in the final 26 seconds secured the win.
“Kyle and Morgan were huge and Kanon had a big game too. You go up and down the line … .this group has never quit on anything and I’m happy for them. This keeps our hopes alive and gives us energy going into the next one,” said Lofton.
Soucie, having to work against taller NSU front court players, made 8 of 10 shots (1 of 2 threes) to reach his point total. His previous high of 11 came against Chadron State in November 2017.
“Morgan hasn’t had a ton of playing time this year but he does all the drills, goes 100 percent and has a great attitude. So I’m really over-the-moon excited for what he was able to do tonight,” said Lofton.
UNK’s finished 14 of 28 from behind the arc including an 8 of 10 effort in the second half. The Lopers came in having made 20% (17 of 86) of its three points shots over the last 140 minutes of game action.
Besides Soucie and Juhl, Koster had a team-high 21 points on 6 of 9 (3 of 5) shooting. Going 6 of 6 at the line, he also provided five boards and four assists. Finally, Penner (13) had his seventh double digit effort of the winter thanks to three made threes. He also pulled down a team-high eight rebounds and had three dimes.
Averaging 16.3 points per game, Smith led NSU with 24 thanks to a 6 of 10 display from behind the arc. Starters Josh Ihek (11) and Bradley George (10) scored in double figures as well with George having six assists and two steals. UNK heads over to Central Oklahoma on the Saturday. Fort Hays State downed the Bronchos (10-15, 3-3) tonight in Edmond, 69-66.
Kearney, Neb. – Four players scored in double figures and Nebraska-Kearney made 24 of 27 free throws to hold off Northeastern State, 69-64, Thursday evening Tahlequah, Okla.
The Lopers (15-10, 8-8) are now in sole possession of seventh place in the MIAA after Missouri Western State (12-13, 7-9) lost at Southwest Baptist, 82-68. UNK also secures a spot in the 10-team MIAA Tournament March 6-9 in Kansas City.
“It’s a big time accomplishment to make it to K.C. This team is dangerous especially with the experience we’ve gained throughout the year,” said Loper assistant coach Devin Eighmey. “I’m happy they’ll get to experience Kansas City and the environment of the MIAA Tournament.”
Earlier this year in a 80-72 win over the NSU RiverHawks (6-19, 3-13), UNK got out to a 29-point second half lead only to see it whittled down to two by the fourth quarter. The Lopers hit 20 of 26 free throws to get out of that game alive.
Tonight Kearney never trailed and led by as many as 19 points in the second half. The ‘Hawks used a couple of runs to get the deficit down to five by the start of the fourth quarter but the Lopers responded by making 6 of 10 shots and going 9 of 9 at the line in the final 10 minutes.
“This has now happened twice against them. Coming out there in the third (ahead 36-18) we got a shot that we liked but missed and then turned it over. They come down and got a bucket and then hit a three,” saidEighmey. “The lead kept getting smaller, they pressed and we got into some foul trouble. That’s what teams do … they make runs and you have to be able to weather them.”
Coming off a 13 of 13 effort at the line in a loss to Lindenwood last Saturday, UNK saw five different players sink at least two freebies tonight. Kansas freshman reserve forward Elisa Backes did the most damage (9 of 12) with Iowa freshman forward Shiloh McCool going 6 of 6. She has now made her last 15 free throws.
Iowa freshman forward Maegan Holt continued her recent hot streak by tallying a game-high 17 points on 6 of 9 (2 of 3 threes) shooting. She also pulled down seven boards to help UNK finish with a plus six margin on the glass. Next, Backes and McCool had 14 apiece with Elkhorn freshman post Brooke Carlson tallying 10 over 28 minutes. She was popped in the throat setting a screen, one of several plays the officials video reviewed in a game that lasted well over two hours.
Finally, South Dakota freshman guard Klaire Kirsch had another all-around effort (team-high eight rebounds, five points, three assists, two blocks and a steal.
“We lost a heartbreaker last Saturday and I thought we came back and gave great effort tonight. We were locked in at shoot around,” said Eighmey. “Our ability to hit free throws was a big part at the end and I thought our defense and attention to detail was really good.”
Going 20 of 53 from the field (38 percent), NSU saw starting guard Cenia Hayes have 16 points, seven boards and four steals with reserve Megan Lee at 15 points, three assists. Finally, starting post Joi Bertrand blocked seven shots and had 11 points.
UNK heads to Central Oklahoma on Saturday afternoon. The Bronchos (15-11, 6-10) got blasted by No. 4 Fort Hays State tonight, 70-48.