Pittsburg, KansasJunior reserve forward Elisa Backes recorded her third career double double and fourth-ranked Nebraska-Kearney used a 9-0 fourth quarter run to slip past Pittsburg State, 57-53, Thursday night in Kansas.
The Lopers, the only 11-0 team in NCAA Division II, pick up its first win in Pittsburg since the 1986-87 season. They also earn its second win over the Gorillas (8-4) since joining the MIAA eight years ago and snap Pitt’s seven-game win streak.
“That’s a big-time team win. This unit, when its connected and we’re together, we’ll play anybody in the country,” Loper assistant coach Devin Eighmey said on the KRVN radio post-game show. “It’s hard to come in here and win with the way they’ve been playing. But we had some dog in us … we fought.”
It was matchup of great defense vs. great offense with UNK’s “D” coming out on top in the end. The Lopersheld Pitt 19 points below its season scoring average but, more importantly, the Gorillas tallied just one point over a seven-minute stretch in the fourth quarter.
“You don’t feel any doubt with this team. We’re tough, we’re competitive and I think we have a great team. We had several people step up tonight but the whole part is bigger than any one person,” Eighmey said. “We didn’t play that well … we had 19 turnovers and had 47 shot attempts on the road. Most teams wouldn’t win doing that but we guarded.”
UNK hit four threes in the opening quarter to lead 16-11 but the Gorillas returned the favor in the third, going 4 of 5 from downtown. One bounced around the rim a half dozen times before falling with the other coming from 25 feet out. That helped Pitt erase a 39-36 deficit and start an 11-2 run.
Pitt scored the first five points in the fourth to take its largest lead of the game, 47-41, and force UNK to call a timeout. That’s when the momentum changed dramatically as the Lopers responded with a 12-1 run. This key stretch featured six points from Backes (Salina, Kan.) and South Dakota sophomore reserve guard Trinity Law (Brandon, S.D.).
Up five with just under five to play, UNK could’ve knocked out the Gorillas but a couple of threes, an inside shot and some free throws didn’t fall. However, the Loper defense held serve at the other end as the Gorillas didn’t crack 50 points until a Maya Williams trey with 13 seconds remaining.
“They were getting frustrated (on offense). When we got down six you have two options … you can fight or you can fold. And we had some fight in us,” Eighmey said.
Backes knocked down two freebies and then Crofton senior Kelsey Sanger hit another to finish UNK’sscoring. The Lopers went 15 of 24 at the line (62.5 pct.) but made 9 of 13 in the final 10 minutes. Kearney also was plus seven on the glass and held Pitt to 33.3% (18 of 54) shooting).
UNK’s bench went for 43 points, 22 rebounds, four assists, three blocks, and two steals over a combined 83 minutes. Backes had 20 points, 11 boards, three swats, and three dimes. She tied her career-best effort in rebounds was a point shy of her career-best offensive output.
Next, Law provided good defense on Pitt star Kaylee DaMitz while tallying 10 points and an assist with Iowa redshirt sophomore Shiloh McCool at 10 points and seven rebounds and Iowa freshman guard Meg Burns hitting an early three and logging 13 minutes. Each UNK starter made one shot with South Dakota junior Klaire Kirsch adding a team-best nine rebounds.
“Elisa and Trinity are good players. As a sophomore you can tell Trinity is beginning to figure things out. She’s also tough, works hard and is a great teammate,” Eighmey said.
Pitt got 18 points and five rebounds from starting guard Tristan Gegg with DaMitz at 12 points on 4 of 12 (1 of 5 threes) shooting. Williams (10) hit two threes to also be in double digits.
UNK heads to Missouri Southern State on Saturday. The Lions (4-7) fell tonight to Fort Hays State, 70-49.
Pittsburg, Kansas – Senior guard Jake Walker tallied a career-high 30 points and Nebraska-Kearney sunk a season-best 12 three pointers to beat Pittsburg State, 85-75, Thursday night in Kansas.
The Lopers (5-7) win for the third time in four outings and avenge a 2020 MIAA Tournament loss to the Gorillas (5-7). UNK also wins at Pitt State for the third straight time.
“I want to congratulate our women’s basketball team. They got one heck of a year going and are fun to watch. They are building momentum and I think they can make a deep run,” UNK head coach Kevin Loftonsaid on the KRVN Radio postgame show. “Our guys watch them and are raising their level.”
The Gorillas are a taller and bigger team than the Lopers. However, Alliance senior forward Austin Lugerworked around a bum wheel to go almost all 40 minutes with the other Loper posts managing to get around foul trouble. UNK, going to a 2-3 zone once again, was plus 10 on the glass and finished 12 of 25 from behind the arc. Pitt countered with its own zone that the Lopers eventually carved up.
“The first 11 games didn’t go quite as we had hoped. But of late we’re playing better basketball,” Lofton said. “Austin showed great grit and has been our backbone.”
Having four starters score in double figures, the Lopers led the entire way. Up 34-27 at the break, the lead zoomed to 47-31 after a Luger layup. Pitt, of course, had a run in them and they got the deficit to four, 59-55, by the 9:08 mark. But that’s when Walker (Centerville, Utah) went nuclear, hitting three bombs in less than two minutes to get the lead back into double digits. Pitt didn’t get closer than nine the rest of the way with January hero Myles Arnold (Fontana, Calif.) hitting another three for good measure.
“Talent wise night in and night our we’re up against it and that’s fine. That’s where the grit has to come in and you have to play for each other,” Lofton said. “I didn’t think we’d get that much out of the zone but we needed it. We have been working hard at it.”
Among the MIAA three point leaders a year ago, Walker was 12 of 23 (6 of 14 threes) from the field while also having five boards, four assists, and two steals in 30 minutes. His previous career-high of 25 points was achieved in three different games.
“When he’s shooting it like that … if you like it, I love it,” Lofton said. “He shot it well. They went to their zone and we knew they would because they had success with it last year down in Kansas City. We didn’t have an answer then but we attacked it pretty well tonight.”
Next, Bellevue redshirt sophomore Cedric Johnson tallied a career-high 18 by making six shots and three free throws. He also had a career-best nine rebounds and three assists over 35 minutes. Finally, Arnold (16 points, five rebounds, and three dimes) remained hot, Luger provided 11 points and Utah junior Darrian Nebeker (eight points & seven boards) was strong off the pine.
“We’re building. Central Missouri it started … went home and played well against Missouri Western and had a decent showing against Northwest Missouri,” Lofton said. UNK heads to Missouri Southern State on Saturday. The Lions (5-6) fell to Fort Hays State tonight in overtime, 102-94.