Kearney, Neb. – Senior wing Mollie Mounsey scored 21 points and No. 29/30 Emporia State took advantage of 17 turnovers to defeat No. 27 Nebraska-Kearney, 61-52, in an MIAA Tournament semifinal game Saturday afternoon in Kansas City.
The Hornets (24-6) advance to Sunday’s afternoon title tilt against top-seed and No. 12/15 Central Missouri. The Jennies (26-5) downed Fort Hays State, 59-48, in the early first game of the day.
UNK (26-6) will have to wait until Sunday at 9 p.m. Central to see if it qualifies for the 64-team NCAA Division II Tournament. The Lopers entered the weekend ninth in the Central Region; the top eight teams in each of D2’s eight regions make the Big Dance. St. Cloud State, ranked 10th in the region, “stole” a bid by winning the NSIC (Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conf.) Tournament to take that league’s automatic slot.
In the third meeting with E-State this season UNK tallied 52 points on 33 percent (20 of 60) field goal shooting. The Lopers were held to a season-low 49 points by the Hornets back in December and, for the year, managed a 38 field goal percentage against Emporia’s vaunted trapping zone defense.
“They are good. They have some kids that can really score it and defensively they can disrupt you. They definitely did that to us today,” said UNK head coach Carrie Eighmey. “We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well or play maybe the way we wanted to play today. We couldn’t get in sync offensively.”
Emporia took control of things by closing the first half on a 14-3 run. The spurt featured two Loper turnovers, two Hornet threes and a layup by Mounsey. Up 33-23 at the break, the E-State cushion remained at 10 entering the fourth quarter when they scored the first seven points. A three from senior forward Morgan Laudan made it 49-32 with 7:18 to play.
“They did a good job of taking away what we wanted to do especially early. The last time we played them (79-71 win in Kearney) we were able to attack them from the paint. They did a good job of making that a lot more difficult today,” Eighmey said. “We also had 16 offensive rebounds but only 10 points of those. We got extra possessions and took seven more shots than they did but we couldn’t finish.”
UNK didn’t go down quietly, getting within six points by the 2:04 mark. A steal and bucket by South Dakota sophomore Klaire Kirsch made it 52-46 Hornets with another ESU turnover soon following. However the Lopers missed the ensuing shot and Emporia tallied the game’s next four points to lead by double digits again.
“We made a couple of adjustments. We ran some of our man stuff, just to create some different looks and different opportunities. When you’re playing against a zone and run the same look it’s easy for them to make those bumps and shifts. They kind of now where you’re going,” Eighemy said. “So we tried to be more unpredictable in the fourth. We were able to create some better looks but when we had some open looks we were short on a lot of shots. Those didn’t go down that, at different times in the year, those did.”
Scoring 17 points off of 20 UNK turnovers and having 10 second chance points thanks to eight o-boards, ESU had seven different players in the scoring column. Mounsey, a 2020 second-team All-MIAA pick, reached her game-high total by going 8 of 15 (2 of 7 threes) from the field. She also had seven boards in 35 minutes of work. Next 6-3 reserve freshman post Jalyn Harris (nine points & nine rebounds) got close to a double double with 2020 MIAA freshman of the year Tre’Zure Jobe at 11 points, five defensive caroms, five assists and four steals. Due to injuries MIAA Defensive Player of the Year Jessica Wayne and Harris didn’t play in the road loss to the Lopers.
“Jessica is impressive. She played 33 minutes today on a torn ACL. She’s so tough and makes a huge difference. She is so long and maybe didn’t have a ton of steals today (four) but gets deflections and knows what they are doing,” Eighmey said.
Nine different Lopers scored led by 11 from Kansas sophomore forward Elisa Backes. She went 4 of 7 from the field and 3 of 4 at the line while pulling down eight boards in only 19 minutes of action. Iowa freshman forward Madison Dreckman was effective of the bench as well (eight points, four boards, and two assists) with Kirsch at nine caroms, five points, two steals and an assist. The board work pushes her season total to 267, fourth best in Loper lore. Post Amy Mathis set the record of 284 over 34 games during the 2007-08 season.
“We’ve got a great group and we’re excited about having this whole team back … we don’t lose anybody. This is a really good team and I’d like to think we’re somewhere in the (national) Top 25. I’d put us up against anybody in the Top 25,” Eighmey said. “It’s hard to say what will happen.”