KEARNEY, Neb - Senior forward Lavon Hightower had 27 points and 11 rebounds to help Missouri Western State hold off Nebraska-Kearney, 83-79, Saturday evening at the Health & Sports Center.
With the win, the Griffons stop a four-game losing streak and improve to 9-11 (3-6) while the Lopers fall to 6-13 (1-9). Eight of UNK's losses have come by a combined 37 points.
Averaging 18.8 points and 7.4 rebounds coming in, the 6-6, 205 pound Hightower reached his team-high point total by going 8 of 11 from the field (4 of 5 threes) and 7 of 10 at the line. Ten of his rebounds came at the defensive end and he also had four assists and two steals in the 37 minutes.
Mo West went on a 14-6 run to lead 79-71 with 2:57 left to play. This key spurt began with a three and ended with a three; the Griffs finished 8 of 21 from behind the arc.
MWSU seemingly had things sewn up as they were ahead 80-75 with 24 seconds remaining. However, junior guard Chase Winchester (DeSoto, Texas) made a free throw, rebounded an intentional miss on the second and found freshman Kanon Koster (Kearney) for a three from the top of the circle.
Hightower was quickly fouled at the 12 second mark and made the subsequent free throws to put his team up three. UNK then called timeout to setup a potential game tying play. However, an open three from the left wing taken by junior Kyle Juhl (Harlan, Ia.) hit iron and the Griffs grabbed the rebound.
"It worked out perfect as far as the look he got. Honestly, I didn't think he would get that clean of a look because we had a small lineup in and I thought they would switch everything along the baseline. (Henry) Penner did something really smart … he slipped out of it and that caused two of their players to sit there and decided what they wanted to do. That give Kyle the look," said Loper head coach Kevin Lofton. "We'll give to him again. I believe in Kyle and the shot just didn't go in."
UNK led 64-59 midway through the second half but Mo West responded with a 6-1 run to regain the lead. Millard South graduate Tyrell Carroll had a three point play and made another free throw to get the Griffs going. The freshman guard finished with 17 points, four dimes, four boards and three steals.
"We pressed a bit when we were ahead. Carroll got it going and that and one was key for them. We had a couple of turnovers and maybe a bad shot during that stretch," said Lofton.
Koster paced the Lopers with a season-high 31 points, nine rebounds, three assists, a steal and two of UNK's season-best seven blocks. Going all 40 minutes he made 12 of 22 shots (3 of 5 threes) and 4 of 5 free throws. Finally, Koster grabbed two of the Lopers 11 offensive rebounds.
Back in December, he had 30 points in a home loss to Emporia State and has now reached the 20-point mark four times this winter.
"I've got to give them credit. They had 12 offensive rebounds in the first half. It seemed like anytime it came off the rim they were able to grab it," said Lofton. "We turned that around a bit in the second half but that (offensive rebounds) was their life blood in the first half. That and Hightower got it going."
Next, Lincoln sophomore Sam Morris had a season-high 13 points thanks to five freebies and four buckets. Off the bench, Aurora freshman Henry Penner had six points, six rebounds and two assists.
Mo West won the battle on the glass by one, 38-37 while UNK shot a bit better from the field, 45-42 percent. Finally, the teams combined for just 13 turnovers.
UNK has only one game next week, a Saturday afternoon tilt vs. the Fort Hays State Tigers (13-6, 7-3). No. 2 Northwest Missouri State won in Gross Coliseum today, 81-69.