Kearney, Neb. – The Central Oklahoma Bronchos got big performances from starters Madison Lee and Jesheon Cooper and closed on a 30-9 run to rally past Nebraska-Kearney, 67-59, Thursday night in Edmond.
Thanks to strong final 11 minutes, UCO (18-5, 9-5), ranked most of the season in the WBCA Top 25 poll, sees a two-game losing streak to UNK come to an end. Meanwhile, the Lopers (18-4, 10-4) lose for the first time since January 6 and a seven-game win streak goes by the wayside.
UNK seemingly was headed for an eighth straight victory as they led for the first 36:52 and by as many as 13 points. However, the Lopers offensive production dipped with each passing 10 minutes, finishing with five points on 2 of 13 shooting in the fourth quarter.
“I thought we played well on both sides of the ball for the first three quarters. We had a few too many turnovers (17) against a team that pressures a little bit,” said Loper assistant coach Brandon Rohr. “It just didn’t quite bounce our way down the stretch. There’s a few possessions and a few defensive rebound opportunities we would like back.”
Now 11-1 in games decided by 10 points or less, UNK led 50-37 after a triple by Crofton freshman Kelsey Sanger. UCO started its big run by scoring the final four points of the third quarter to trail 54-46. The two buckets came in the final 41 seconds.
Senior guard Melinda Murillo, UCO’s leading scoring on the year, made it a six-point game 10 seconds into the fourth quarter and then both squads went cold. UCO tallied three points over the next seven minutes while the Lopers were stuck on 54 points.
UNK’s only baskets of the quarter came on-back-to-back possessions as senior guard Michaela Barry (Battle Creek) banked in a runner and junior forward Jaymie Bernbeck (Garden City, Kan.) hit a baseline jumper. That made it 58-54 with 2:52 remaining but UCO tallied the next eight points.
“They were really physical going to the ball and started switching things late. That kind of threw us off a little bit. The floor started to shrink and it makes it harder for the offense to operate. One player is able to guard two,” said Rohr.
After an offensive rebound, sophomore reserve guard Shatoya Bryson hit a three to make it a one-point deficit. The Lopers missed a shot with 2:05 left and then Cooper, standing 6-5, tallied a put back layup to tie the game. A UNK turnover followed and then Lee, averaging three points on the year, rebounded a miss and converted a three-point play that gave her team the lead for good.
Barry made one of two free throws with 46 seconds to go to keep it a one possession game but Lee hit a jumper with the shot clock winding down. She finished with 10 points, seven coming in the fourth. Shooting 80 percent at the line coming in, the ‘Chos went 5 of 7 at the line to salt things away
“We were up four with two and a half left and gave up an offensive rebound and it got kicked out for a three. We just got to close and that’s something our group and done all year. We just didn’t do it tonight,” said Rohr.
In losing two games to UNK late last year, UCO committed a combined 38turnovers. Tonight, they had only eight while hitting seven threes and limiting UNK to 39 percent shooting. The ‘Chos came in among the MIAA leaders in field goal percentage defense (34.2) and Cooper is one big reason why. She finished with six blocks and altered countless others as she was parked in the lane in the fourth quarter.
Besides the swats, Cooper had 10 rebounds and eight points. In addition to Lee’s heroics, starter Blake Blessington (18) and Murillo (11) scored in double figures as did Bryson (10). She came in averaging 5.4 points per game.
For UNK, Barry had second double double (18 points and 10 rebounds) of the year with Sanger tallying 14 and Grand Island senior McKenzie Brown chipping in with 12 points and nine boards. Barry made eight free throws and five shots while also having a team-best six assists. Next, these three players each logged 38 minutes.
Finally, Humphrey graduate transfer Alyssa Frauendorfer fouled out midway the fourth, UNK’s fifth DQ of the year, and managed five points and five rebounds.
UNK heads to Northeastern State on Saturday afternoon. The RiverHawks (9-12, 5-9) fell tonight to Fort Hays State, 71-53.
Kearney, Neb. – Four players scored in double figures and Central Oklahoma grabbed 14 offensive rebounds to beat Nebraska-Kearney, 77-69, Thursday night in Edmond.
The Bronchos (16-7, 9-5) are now 9-2 at home and 11-3 all-time against the Lopers (10-13, 6-8). UNK, falling to 7-11 in games decided by 12 points or less, was a bit shorthanded as starting forward AJ Jackson (Bellevue) was out due to illness and starting guard Lane Rohrich was limited due to injury. The Pierce native played 21 minutes when he usually goes for 36.
Despite the short rotation, Kearney was hotter than a firecracker in July as it hit seven three pointers in the first 10 minutes to lead 24-9. York senior guard Ty Danielson hit four of the bombs with junior reserve forward Carter Burns (Ankeny, Ia.) nailing two, junior guard Isaiah McKay (Brooklyn Park, Minn.) having one and freshman post Weston Baker Magrath (Marshall, Minn.) converting a three-point play for goid measure.
However, a UCO Broncho squad with five Division I transfers and nine players standing 6-4 or taller went inside to climb back into the things. Thanks to 11 offensive rebounds, the ‘Chos outscored UNK 30-10 the rest of the half to lead by five. A balanced attack saw eight players in the scoring column.
“We shot the ball well in the first half but the thing that did us in was that they rebounded the ball. When we were making all those shots, they were getting second chance opportunities and that helped them hang around. If we were finishing the possessions one and done, we could’ve really stretched the lead,” said Loper head coach Kevin Lofton.
UNK got 19 points and six rebounds from senior forward Trey Lansman (Harlan, Ia.) in the second half to hang around. The Lopers grabbed a 42-41 lead after a UCO turnover and a Lansman jumper. However, UCO wouldn’t trail again as they went on an 11-4 run.
“I thought we did what we wanted in terms of post defense. We were able to sag and double; usually, they really enforce their will around the basket with deep post ups. We did a good job of taking that away from them but we couldn’t finish possessions in the first half,” said Lofton.
The Lopers tried to comeback from a 14-point hole late in the second half, getting the deficit down to 73-67 after a Danielson layup. However, UCO went 3 for 4 at the line to push the lead back to nine.
“We were knocking at the door for a long time but we couldn’t get a stop or two that would’ve put us over the top,” said Lofton.
Graduate transfer Marqueese Grayson, formerly of D1 Albany (NY), went for a team-high 20 points on 8 of 13 (4 of 4 threes) shooting. He also had four assists, two rebounds and a steal in 34 minutes.
Former ‘Husker Jake Hammond, at 6-9, 230 lbs., had a double double (10 points & 12 rebounds) with Oral Roberts transfer Corbin Byford at 10 points and five boards. Off the bench, junior guard Kole Talbott had 12 points and three boards in 22 minutes. He came in averaging 3.5 points per game.
Lansman (24 points & 12 rebounds) recorded his 12th double double of the year, one of the highest such totals in Division II. He went 8 of 16 (1 of 6 threes) from the field and 7 of 8 at the lien in playing all 40 minutes.
Next, Danielson had 14 of his 16 points in the first half with Burns (six) and Iowa sophomore Kyle Juhl (five) combining for 11 points, six rebounds, five assists and three blocks off the bench. Finally, McKay got close to his first career double double (eight points & nine rebounds).
UNK is at Northeastern State Saturday afternoon. The RiverHawks (7-15, 3-10) fell tonight to Fort Hays State, 98-89, its eighth loss in a row.