Lopers winning ways continue; second-ranked Northwest Thursday night

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KEARNEY, Neb. - The Nebraska-Kearney men's basketball team went 10 of 14 from the three point line to have a 60-point half en route to an 85-58 win over Emporia State Saturday evening at the Health & Sports Center.

The Lopers breakdown the huddle after an early timeout.

The Lopers (12-5, 6-2) have won eight of nine, its best stretch since the 2015-16 squad went 8-1 late in that season. Emporia (9-7, 3-4), which handed Kearney a 78-68 setback in early December, is now on a two-game skid.

After setting a new record for margin of victory in an MIAA game Thursday vs. Washburn (28), UNK almost did again today thanks to a final 20 minutes in which it made 23 of 35 shots (66%) including 10 bombs. Those threes came from five different players with Utah junior Jake Walker (six) and Iowa senior Kyle Juhl (five) combining for 11 of the 15 overall makes. That finally tally is just two shy of tying the school record.

"It helps when you make rhythm shots … it simplifies the game. But defense really kind of set the tone for everything and the three pointers were kind of the cherry on top," UNK head coach Kevin Lofton said.

It was a defensive struggle in the first half as they teams combined for 48 points on 20 made shots. UNK led 4-0 at the 16:09 mark but fell behind 19-13. A late flurry helped erase that deficit with a three from Alliance junior reserve forward Austin Luger making it 25-21 with 2:41 left. E-State scored a minute later and the Lopers went into the locker room up two.

"I was very proud of the defensive effort they gave for the entire game. First half they got us down a little bit and we were struggling offensively in spots. We bared down on the defensive end and they got us into transition and kept us in it until we could find some offense," Lofton said.

UNK made back-to-back-to-back threes early in the second half to open up a 36-28 lead. Walker hit two of the bombs with Juhl nailing the other. After scoring on its next two possessions, the Lopers got another triple from Walker and one from Juhl soon after to make it 46-32. That was all she wrote as E-State didn't get close than 13 the rest of the way.

"Coming into the year we wanted better ball movement, better spacing. What we're doing now (offensively) involves a lot of ball movement, lot of player movement and solid screens. And It's worked out so far," Lofton said. "When you got a Trey Lansman, a Connor Beranek, a Ethan Brozek … when you have those kind of guys it does make sense to iso things. With this group team work seems to be our best weapon."

One of four starters in double figures, Walker scored 18 thanks to 6 of 12 three point shooting with Juhl going 5 of 7 from behind the arc to tally 15. He also had a team-best five steals and handed out three assists; UNK had 27 dimes on 33 field goals.

Next Kansas senior forward Morgan Soucie had nine points in both halves and a team-high seven assists with Bellevue forward AJ Jackson at 14 points, six boards, three dimes and a steal. Finally Luger had seven points, three boards and a block off the bench.

While Emporia shot 50% (23 of 46) from the field, they committed 22 turnovers which led to UNK taking 17 more shots. The Hornets also gave up 11 offensive rebounds that led to 18 Loper second chance points. E-State was led by reserves Gage McGuire (16 points) and Zac Owens (11 points).

UNK heads to defending national champion Northwest Missouri State (16-1, 6-1) on Thursday night. The Bearcats, on an eight-game win streak, are 116-6 since the start of the 2016-17 season.