By CEDRIQUE FLEMMING
The defense wasn’t as solid as NSU men’s basketball coach Larry Gipson would like it, but the RiverHawks were able to sneak past Nebraska-Kearney 90-85 Thursday night to earn a victory in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association.
All five starters for the home team finished in double figures, and they were led by a 27-point, 10-assist performance from Bryton Hobbs. The reigning MIAA Athlete of the Week posted a career high in assists and the fourth double-double of his career.
Other double-digit scorers included Dalen Qualls (18), Curtis Evans (12), Marcus Sheppard (12), and Keon Littleton (11).
“I’m happy to get a win. This is a tough league to get wins in,” Gipson said. “We protected our home court. We still have some defensive deficiencies that have not been corrected, and we need to do a better job of playing defense down the stretch. I thought we lost some assignments and got confused on some defensive rotations, and we simply need to do a better job.”
Despite the overall lack of defensive prowess, the RiverHawks (11-4, 6-2 MIAA) were able to slow down UNK’s top two scorers. Connor Beranek entered the game as the MIAA’s third-leading scorer at 19.4 points per game, but he was held to just 13 points. UNK’s second-leading scorer is Mike Dentlinger (13.8 points per contest), and he was held to his second-lowest total of the season of just six points.
Those that were able to reach double digits for the Lopers (5-9, 2-6 MIAA) were Davion Pearson (20), Ethan Brozek (18), Beranek, and Tyler Shields (10).
The score was tied 35-35 at halftime. NSU never trailed in the final 18:38 and led by as many as 11 points in the second half.
Northeastern State received a welcomed edition to the lineup as junior forward Landon DeMasters returned from an injury that had him sidelined since Dec. 7. He played just 11 minutes off the bench and only had one point and four rebounds, but his importance can’t be quantified on a stat sheet, Gipson said.
“Landon DeMasters adds stability to our lineup. Obviously he was rusty because he had not played in more than a month, but he understands the game extremely well and does a lot of things the average fan doesn’t notice,” Gipson said. “He was a step slow tonight and got into some foul trouble, but there is a lot of rust that we have to knock off and we’re happy to have him back.”
Another welcomed edition came in the form of crowd support, as the attendance soared to 1,085 with the return of the students to campus from the holiday break. The crowd was the second-largest at home this season.
NSU (women) 64, Neb. Kearney 61
The deficit was 15 points with less than 10 minutes to play. It seemed like the NSU women’s basketball team was on its way to a third straight loss. Nothing was going right for the green and white.
But then something happened; a shot found the bottom of the cup. And then another. And Nebraska-Kearney began to collapse. And the next thing they knew, the RiverHawks (7-8, 4-4 MIAA) found themselves ahead before stealing a 64-61 victory from the Lopers (6-8, 3-5 MIAA) Thursday evening inside the NSU Event Center.
NSU outscored UNK 26-8 in the final nine minutes of regulation, but it also took an 11-2 run in the last 3:29 to get past the visitors from Nebraska.
The final fire was lit by Fontana Tate, who nailed 3-pointers at both 3:29 and at 2:39 to bring the home team to within three at 59-56. A defensive rebound by Tate on UNK’s next possession and two-straight assists from the junior guard to Che’Ron Lewis gave the RiverHawks a one-point advantage with a minute left in regulation. The lead was the first of the game for NSU.
The Lopers were completely out of sync during the run and finished just 1-of-8 from the field in the final three minutes. A fast-break layup with 16 seconds left and two free throws with six seconds remaining — all by Tate — sealed the comeback.
She finished with a team-high 12 points, but the comeback would not have been possible without the defensive presence of senior forward Carrington Fox.
“The three by Fontana (at the 3:29 mark) is probably what sparked the comeback,” NSU coach Randy Gipson said. “Fontana hitting those two big shots rubbed off on her teammates. Carrington also played hard and led the defensive effort down the stretch. She played like you want your senior leader to play, and that inspired us.”
Fox finished with nine points, 11 rebounds and five assists. She also ended the game with eight blocks, which tied the school record that was set way back in 1983 by Kathy Brock.
“We’re thrilled with the way our kids hung in the game. Any win is big for this team,” Gipson said. “Hopefully we gained a little optimism after tonight.”
NSU has little time to celebrate as No. 23 Fort Hays State comes marching into Tahlequah for a 1:30 p.m. tip Saturday. The Tigers are coming off a 64-38 drubbing of Central Oklahoma Thursday night. They also feature the nation’s leading shot blocker in Kate Lehman.
NSU (men) 90, Neb. Kearney 85
Nebraska-Kearney 35 50 85
Northeastern State 35 55 90
Neb. Kearney (5-9, 2-6): Davion Pearson 20, Ethan Brozek 18, Connor Beranek 13, Tyler Shields 10, Glidden 9, Dineen 7, Dentlinger 6, Thomas 2.
NSU (11-4, 6-2): Bryton Hobbs 27, Dalen Qualls 18, Marcus Sheppard 12, Curtis Evans 12, Keon Littleton 11, McDonald 6, Harmon 3, DeMasters 1.
NSU (women) 64, Neb. Kearney 61
Nebraska-Kearney 35 26 61
Northeastern State 27 37 64
Neb. Kearney (6-8, 3-5): Sydney Seberger 17, Amarah Williams 11, Arp 9, Hix 6, Fitzgerald 5, Lewis 5, Mathieu 3, Zimmerman 3, Hogberg 2.
NSU (7-8, 4-4): Fontana Tate 12, Che’Ron Lewis 10, Beathard 9, Fox 9, Jackson 8, Cowan 7, Walker 6, Bellamy 3.