Kate Bellamy was on the verge of tears. She had just turned the ball over as Fort Hays State's Chandler Taylor converted the steal into a one-point lead for the Tigers with 21 seconds left.
"I was close. I was on the verge [of tears]," Bellamy said of sitting on the bench during a timeout with NSU's final possession of the game coming up.
"It was very emotional."
Bellamy would redeem herself, though.
The 5-foot-9 sophomore from Australia put up a potential game-winning field-goal attempt from the right baseline with 3.5 seconds left. It was blocked by Fort Hays State's 6-foot-4 center Kate Lehman.
But wait. Lehman was called for her first and only foul of the game, sending Bellamy to the free-throw line with a chance to win the game.
She did just that.
Bellamy calmly sank both free throws as NSU completed the upset of No. 23 Fort Hays State in front of 742 inside the NSU Event Center.
"I wanted to win it back for my team," said Bellamy, who finished with 10 points. "I would have been the reason we lost...I said to myself, 'I have to do this to win it for my team.'"
Bellamy wrapped up the day by going three-of-three at the foul line. None were bigger than the final two, though.
But ask Fort Hays State coach Tony Hobson and he'll say Bellamy should not have not received a chance to become NSU's saving grace.
"I would love to have someone throw up a desperation shot from the corner and have it hit our post player's elbow and get a foul call," said Hobson, whose team had a four-game winning streak snapped. "...But you do have to give them credit for making both of (the free throws). You still have to make the free throws.
"But that was, well, obviously...I've never seen that before. Obviously, an inexperienced official makes a poor call. What do you do?"
Lehman — who had 19 points and seven rebounds, despite averaging close to 12 rebounds a game — was in full agreement with her coach.
"Not in my opinion," Lehman said when asked if she fouled Bellamy, "but I don't make the calls."
Fort Hays State's Beth Bohuslavsky put up a 3-pointer at the buzzer, but the potential game-winning shot clanged off the rim.
Chelsey Bearthard led the way for the RiverHawks (8-8, 5-4 Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association) with 16 points on a six-of-nine effort from the floor.
"Obviously a big win for us," said NSU coach Randy Gipson, whose club beat a Tiger team that had beaten opponents by an average of 30 points of its last four games. "It got a little crazy in the end, but I think up until the final few minutes, the game really went exactly the way we hoped it would."
Leading the nation in average scoring margin, Fort Hays State (12-3, 6-3) shot only 31.5 percent (17-of-54) from the field and nine-of-18 from the free-throw line. The Tigers were also out-rebounded 38-32.
"I'd like to think that maybe we defended well enough to make them to take a little more time than they wanted in their halfcourt offense," said Gipson, whose team held Fort Hays State — which came in averaging a league-best 85.9 points a game — to its lowest output of the year.
"It worked out today."
Aside from Lehman only one other Fort Hays State player scored in double figures. Chelsea Mason had 11 points, but she was four-of-13 from the field and three-of-12 from beyond the 3-point arc.
"It's a big win," Bellamy said. "...We're starting to show that we can do it if we play as a team and fight hard."
Fort Hays State 79, NSU (men) 65
It appears as though NSU's win against Nebraska Kearney on Thursday night was the exception and not the rule.
After Saturday afternoon's loss to the Tigers, NSU coach Larry Gipson was on the verge of hitting the reset button.
"We're getting beat badly," said Gipson, whose team has now lost three of its last four games and by an average of 16.3 points per contest. "I think we have to look at everything. I've got to look at everything — from myself on through the team — our game preparation, our determination. We're too careless. We're too loose with the basketball. We turn it over way too much."
With do-it-all Craig Nicholson leading the way, Fort Hays State (14-3, 6-3) won its sixth straight game. Nicholson tallied 27 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and four steals.
"I had a meeting with (Fort Hays State) Coach (Mark) Johnson and he really harped on me getting more rebounds, so I really took pride in that and tried to help the team get more rebounds."
Nicholson scored 18 of his points in the second half, when the Tigers took full control of the game. After trailing by eight early in the first half, Fort Hays State rallied to claim a 34-28 lead, which turned into a 15-point advantage with 14:01 left.
The turnaround can be traced back to Fort Hays State switching its defense to a zone.
"When we went to zone, that really helped us," said Nicholson, who was six-of-nine from the floor and 15-of-16 from the free-throw line. "They couldn't hit as many shots as they were when we were in man. They were killing us in man, so we had to go to zone."
Gipson wouldn't argue that statement.
"When they switched to zone then it stymied us," said Gipson, whose team fell to 11-5 overall and 6-3 in the MIAA. "We're small and quick and we move well and we can play off the bounce pretty well. When you go to a zone, it negates movement and your ability to dribble the basketball."
In a game billed for the guard matchup between Nicholson and NSU's Bryton Hobbs, the RiverHawks' 6-foot guard recorded 28 points and eight assists. But the senior from St. Louis turned the ball over five times and went eight-of-20 from the field.
Landon DeMasters was NSU's only other scorer in double figures with 10 points.
The RiverHawks were a measly 19-of-54 (35.2 percent) from the field while only knocking down six of 23 (26.1 percent) of their 3-point attempts.
Fort Hays State finished 27-of-58 from the field and 23-of-26 from the foul line.
After a stretch of five games in 10 days, NSU is now off until Wednesday when it hosts Emporia State. But there will be plenty for the RiverHawks to sort out between now and then.
"We think we've got to play better together," Gipson said. "I think we've got to tighten up; we don't do a lot of little things well."
Women: Northeastern State 49, Fort Hays State 48
FHSU 22 26 - 48
NSU 25 24 - 49
Fort Hays State (12-3, 6-3): Kate Lehman 19, Chelsea Mason 11, Bohuslavsky 6, Chandler 5, Edwards 4, Lunsford 3.
Northeastern State (8-8, 5-4): Chelsey Beathard 16, Kate Bellamy 10, Tate 9, Fox 5, Cowan 5.
Men: Fort Hays State 79, Northeastern State 65
FHSU 34 45 - 79
NSU 28 37 - 65
Fort Hays State (14-3, 6-3): Craig Nicholson 27, Carson Konrade 16, Dwayne Brunson 13, Stoppel 9, Gabric 5, Moikobu 5, Victoria 4.
Northeastern State (11-5, 6-3): Bryton Hobbs 28, Landon DeMasters 10, Sheppard 8, Evans 8, Qualls 6, Littleton 5.
NSU men blown out by Tigers, Nicholson
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