Kearney, Neb. – Second-ranked Northwest Missouri State shot 57 percent from the field and had three score in double figures to get past Nebraska-Kearney, 85-57, Thursday night at the Health & Sports Center.
The Bearcats improve to 18-0 (8-0) and to 8-1 all-time vs. the Lopers (6-12, 1-8). UNK handed Northwest a 66-59 loss last January at Buckle Court.
Now 80-5 since the start of the 2016-17 season, Northwest came in ranked third in Division II in field goal percentage (53.1) and quickly showed why. The ‘Cats went 19 of 30 (63.3 pct.) from the field in the first half including a 5 of 13 effort from behind the arc. They then made 7 of its first 10 shots to start the second half.
“When Justin Pitts (2017 D2 National Player of the Year) graduated last year everyone thought they may take a step back and become beatable. I like their team this year better than I did last year,” said Loper head coach Kevin Lofton. “They got shooters with size on the perimeter and you just can’t leave them. We tried to limit the threes because they average 12 per game. But that opened up driving lanes and they took advantage.”
A balanced attack included a game-high 23 points and five rebounds from senior wing Joey Witthus and 21 points and eight boards from freshman guard Diego Bernard. Another starter, sophomore forward Ryan Hawkins, went for 13 points and eight boards.
“They’re just a really good team. I don’t think our kids played horrible but they made it seem that way because they are so good. Defensively nothing really worked. On penetration they would bring a guy in from the weak side and that’s where Bernard got a lot of his baskets.”
UNK made 46% (13 of 28) of its first half shots but went 1 of 7 from behind the arc. Getting out rebounded by a 37-20 margin, the Lopers did go 8 of 12 at the line and committed just 10 turnovers.
“We tried to establish ourselves inside early. We missed some opportunities around the basket and that takes the steam out of you,” said Lofton.
Ten different Lopers scored with Kearney freshman Kanon Koster (14) and Aurora freshman Henry Penner (11) reaching double figures. Koster went 5 of 9 from the field with Penner having three of UNK’s five triples. Finally, Alliance sophomore Austin Luger had seven points as the Loper bench outscored the Northwest reserves by a 37-17 margin.
UNK hosts Missouri Western State on Saturday afternoon. The Griffons (8-11, 2-6) lost its fourth straight game tonight at Fort Hays State, 84-74.
Kearney, Neb. – The Northwest Missouri State Bearcats sunk 12 three pointers and shot 95 percent at the line to beat Nebraska-Kearney, 74-62, Thursday evening at the Health & Sports Center.
Northwest improves to 7-10 (3-5) and evens its road record at 3-3. The ‘Cats also beat the Lopers (11-7, 4-5) for a second time in three years; last winter UNK needed a furious rally to win the lone matchup between the two, 88-79 in overtime.
The MIAA leader in free throw percentage at 80.2 percent, Northwest salted things away by making 20 of 21 freebies. Leading for almost the entire night, the ‘Cats work at the line included a 15 of 16 effort in the fourth quarter.
Northwest came in averaging 59 points per game on seven made threes. Those numbers will rise as they made at least two treys in each quarter and finished 21 of 49 (43%) from the field to record its second highest point total of the season.
“They are good shooters and early on we gave them some open looks. They made those and from there they shot it with a lot of confidence,” said Loper head coach Carrie Eighmey. “With a young team, sometimes your offense can dictate your defense. We struggled to finish some shots around the rim early and I thought made us a little bit hesitant.”
UNK, shooting a respectable 42.6 percent (20 of 47) from the floor, led 2-0 but that was its only lead of the night. Down six at the half, the Lopers used a 7-0 run midway through the third quartered to tie things up at 41. The spurt was capped when Wahoo freshman guard Aspen Jansa turned a steal by Kansas freshman Elisa Backes into a three-point play.
However, Northwest closed the quarter on a 9-1 run that included two triples and three free throws by junior starter Kenedy Eaton. She was fouled right before the buzzer sounded.
“Defensively (Northwest) played with good effort and energy and were well prepared,” said Eighmey. “I also thought we were stagnant on both ends of the floor and didn’t play with a great deal of energy.”
Led by Eaton (9 of 9), Northwest kept UNK at bay in the fourth with a series of made foul shots. The Lopers trimmed the deficit to six on two different occasions but that was as close as they would get.
Four starters and one reserve reached double figures for Northwest, led by sophomore guard Jaelyn Haggard (16) and Eaton (15). Haggard went 4 of 9 from down town with junior guard Erika Schlosser 4 of 8. She also had seven assists, two steals and finished with 13 points.
UNK used nine players and each scored but none had more than 10. Iowa freshman forward Maegan Holt made four free throws and hit two treys to score 10 with Missouri sophomore guard Adreon Bell hitting some tough shots in the lane to finish with nine points and three boards. Finally, Backes led the bench with eight points, three blocks, three boards and two steals.
The Missouri Western State Griffons (9-8, 4-4), who eliminated the Lopers from last year’s MIAA Tournament, visit Saturday. They fell tonight at No. 8 Fort Hays State, 67-50.