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Kearney, Neb. – Senior forward Morgan Soucie scored a career-high 23 points to help Nebraska-Kearney win a game of big runs over Hastings College, 78-72, Monday night at the Health & Sports Center.
Shooting 52% from the field in the second half, UNK (5-4) takes the 195th all-time meeting with the Broncos (6-6). Per NAIA rules this was an exhibition contest for Hastings.
UNK was hit by a series of backdoor cuts in the early going and was down 19-9 seven minutes into the action. The Lopers whittled the deficit to one point by the 7:44 mark but then the Broncos went on a 6-0 spurt that was capped by Brendan Lipovsky fast break dunk. A 13-5 Loper run followed with a Soucie (Osawatomie, Kan.) layup, coming off a steal by junior Jake Walker, giving UNK a 35-34 lead heading into the locker room. This was Kearney’s first lead of the night.
“The biggest thing was our bench stepped up. We brought in several guys and everyone one of them helped. Chase Winchester hit two big threes and did a good job running the team, Austin Luger hit a three. Those two guys especially gave us a shot in the arm because we had some starters that were struggling,” UNK head coach Kevin Lofton said. “To have your bench come in and contribute like that, dig us out of a hole, put us up one at that half … that was huge for us.”
The momentum carried into the early part of the second half as the Lopers began on a 21-9 run. This nine minute stretch featured a couple of threes by junior guard RJ Pair (The Colony, Texas), seven straight points by Walker (Centerville, Utah) and some cold Hastings shooting. However the pendulum went right back to the Broncos as they quickly got hot and took advantage of four Lopers turnovers to lead 64-63 with just 3:34 remaining. A contested three by freshman Mason Hiemstra from the left wing capped the 21-7 run.
Having missed nine of its last 11 shots, the Lopers got off the deck and closed the game on a 15-8 run. A Soucie shot in the lane gave UNK the lead back at 65-64 and a Walker jumper with 1:25 remaining made a two possession game, 70-66. Hastings didn’t do itself any favors in the final 2:00 as it missed two free throws, two shots and had a turnover.
“Second half we played well enough to build a lead but unfortunately we lost it. When we needed to execute the last couple of possessions offensively we were able to do that,” Lofton said. “Every year it’s a battle. I don’t look at them as an NAIA program … you go up and down their roster and they have kids good enough to play at the Division II level. That’s what makes it a nail-biter every year.”
Soucie had 14 of his points in the second half and finished up 8 of 15 from the field and 7 of 8 at the line. He fell a rebound short of a double double while also having five assists and a steal. His previous top point total of 22 came last season vs. Pittsburg State. Next Walker had 10 points, all after the break, with Bellevue senior forward AJ Jackson supplying 15 points, five caroms and three assists. Finally Pair had 11 points before fouling out late.
Hastings had four of its five starters score in double figures with Lipovsky and Hiemstra at 17 apiece. Senior forward Bart Hiscock, averaging well over 22.5 points per game, went 3 of 12 from the floor to score 10.
UNK hosts Wayne State on Wednesday night at 6 p.m. That game was originally scheduled for November 26 but postponed due to a snowstorm.