By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
The Missouri Western women's basketball team went toe-to-toe with No. 16 Nebraska-Kearney for awhile, but the Lopers (13-2, 8-1 MIAA) grabbed a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter and hung on for a 60-48 win at the MWSU Fieldhouse Thursday night.
In a battle of top 25 teams, No. 22 Missouri Western (12-2, 7-2 MIAA) started strong and hung with the Lopers early, leading 15-14 at the end of the first and only trailing 25-22 at the break.
But after seven ties and six lead changes in the first half, Nebraska-Kearney never lost the lead in the second half and led 44-36 entering the final quarter.
The Griffons, who lost at home for the first time this season Thursday, got to within 44-40 with 8:07 to go in the fourth, but that's as close as it would get for the rest of the game.
A three-pointer by Haley Simental put the Lopers ahead 56-44 with 3:35 remaining, and the Lopers led it by 10 or more the rest of the way.
Missouri Western shot just 8-of-23 in the second half, including 3-of-11 in the final quarter.
"I thought we had some opportunities that we left on the table," Missouri Western coach Candi Whitaker said. "Missed some layups. We had some wide open looks from the arc. They just didn't go. We just didn't make some shots. I thought you could tell we were a young team late compared to (Kearney's) experience."
Simental and Elisa Backes led Nebraska-Kearney with 16 points each. Brook Carlson had 12 points to go with 11 rebounds.
Connie Clarke carried the load for Western, scoring a game-high 23 points to go with nine rebounds, but no other Griffon finished in double figures. Brionna Budgets finished with nine points. Trinity Knapp had five off the bench.
Missouri Western shot just 32.1 percent (17-of-53) from the field, including just 1-of-11 from three. UNK shot 42.3 percent (22-of-52), including 6-of-19 from three.
Western men erase 23-point deficit, come up just shy at the end
It was tough sledding for the Missouri Western men before Thursday's game even started. The Griffons were without Alex John, Anthony Peacock, Q Mays and Caleb Bennett due to COVID protocol. Three starters, including two of the top three scorers.
Nebraska-Kearney pounced early, leading 30-7 with 8:25 to go in the first half. Will Martin had to call timeout. Suddenly, things changed.
"I felt like our emotions and our attitudes were, 'Oh we're down our three best players,'" Martin said of his team's start. "I said, 'Listen, I'm rocking with all you cats. We're not dodging from any smoke. There's a lot of teams that want to play this game.' And I said, 'I believe in you.'"
The Griffons ended the first half on a 28-11 run, willed themselves back into the game and hung in for the entire second half, but the Lopers (6-9, 2-7 MIAA) hung on late for an 81-79 win in St. Joseph Thursday.
Western used a 13-2 run to get back to within 32-20 with 5:41 left in the first half, prompting a UNK timeout. A Zion Swader three-pointer with just 10 seconds left in the half made it a 41-36 game at the break.
Nebraska-Kearney started the second half on a 9-3 run, and eventually went up 56-43 with 14:14 to go, thanks to a three-pointer from Sean Evans. Evans led the Lopers with a game-high 22 points.
Still trailing 70-63 with 6:27 to play, the Griffons really started to close the gap after several layups by JaRon Thames and Taye Fields made it a 74-71 game with 3:20 left.
Western finally grabbed the lead when Reese Glover hit an open floater in the lane to put the Griffons ahead 77-76 with just over a minute to go.
Nebraska-Kearney responded on the next possession, as Matt Brien hit a corner three with 42 seconds remaining to put the Lopers back up 79-77.
Thames tied it at 79 with a layup of his own with just 25 seconds left. He also got fouled and had a chance at a three-point play, but missed the ensuing free throw. Fields rebounded that miss, and had a chance at a go-ahead put back, but that too was off the mark.
With 15 seconds left, Nebraska-Kearney called timeout and eventually got the ball to Darrian Nebecker, who hit a go-ahead, long range jumper from the left side to put the Lopers back up 81-79. Nebecker finished with 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting. He also had 11 rebounds.
With 4.1 seconds still to go, Western called a full timeout. Will Eames chucked the ball inbounds, halfway across the court to Thames, who dribbled in the lane and had a decent look at a tying shot from just a few feet away, but the shot missed off the iron and the Lopers held on.
"I thought he was right there," Martin said. "It's a good shot that I'll take. He had been hitting those all night. I'm so proud of this team. I don't care about the five-game losing streak. I am so proud of this team."
Heartbreak, perhaps. But, a gutsy effort by a team that was down four total players and three starters, and that got behind by 23 in the early going.
"I've never in my life been more proud of a team," Martin beamed. "Ever. We're down three starters, two seniors. We're out our leading scorer, our best defensive player. We came out and we fought, man. We fought. We fought and we battled."
Zion Swader broke out for a career-high 20 points to go with four steals. Taye Fields had his first career double-double with 15 points and 15 rebounds. JaRon Thames scored 17 points, tying his season-high. Will Eames chipped in 13 points, six rebounds and three steals.
Both Missouri Western teams are back home Saturday to host Fort Hays State. The women tip at 1:30, the men at 3:30. Both games will be carried on KFEQ Radio (680, 95.3).
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