UNK holds off comeback attempt by NSU, 80-72

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KEARNEY, Neb - Freshman Maegan Holt and Klaire Kirsch both had season-high point totals to help Nebraska-Kearney stave off Northeastern State, 80-72, Saturday afternoon at the Health & Sports Center.

UNK (10-5, 3-3) is now 9-1 at home and tied for fifth place in the MIAA. Meanwhile, NSU drops to 3-12 (0-6) and to 2-10 all-time vs. the Lopers.

Holt (Council Bluffs, Ia.) went for a team-high 20 with Kirsch (Rapid City, S.D.) making half of UNK's 10 threes to tally 17. The duo also combined for 12 rebounds as UNK dominated the first 23 minutes, opening up a 57-28 lead with 7:07 remaining in the third quarter. However, the 'Hawks got off the deck and went on a 23-3 run over the next nine minutes to quickly get the deficit into single digits. This stretch featured four made triples; NSU was 1 of 11 from behind the arc in the first half but 6 of 11 in the second.

Kirsch and Holt seemingly stopped the 'Hawk comeback as each buried threes to make it 66-51 with 7:42 remaining. However, a 15-2 NSU run followed capped by a three from sophomore guard Cenia Hayes. She had one of the top nights – 24 points, 17 rebounds, six assists and two blocks – in H & S Center history.

The three from Hayes made it 68-66 with Kirsch hitting her final trey of the night soon after to give UNK some breathing room. A key bucket by senior post Jaymie Bernbeck (Garden City, Kan.) made the score 73-68 with just over two minutes remaining and NSU didn't get any closer.

"It was a tale of two halves. In the first I thought we executed our offense and defensively we were prepared. Our girls took a lot of things away from them that they do well," said UNK head coach Carrie Eighmey. "In the second half, we had some defensive breakdowns and gave up some open looks to 14 (Haynes) and 20 (Cailyn Long) who got hot. Both are good shooters who are capable of great days if you let them. Offensively, in third quarter, we missed five or six layups … when we're missing and they are hitting threes the score can change quickly."

UNK went 11 of 32 (34.3 pct.) from the field after the break while NSU made 18 of its 31 shots (58.1 pct.). Overall, the Lopers scored 15 points off of 11 offensive rebounds and made 20 of 26 free throws.

"(The comeback) wasn't for a lack of effort by our team. A series of events, when you string them together, shifts momentum. They made about every shot they took for a six or seven minute stretch and we didn't" said Eighmey. "It's definitely a learning experience and helps our team understand how good every team in the MIAA is."

Besides Holt and Kirsch, sophomore point guard Adreon Bell (Independence, Mo.) had 11 points, four boards and two steals, freshman post Brooke Carlson (Elkhorn) supplied 15 points, five rebounds and three dimes and freshman forward Shiloh McCool (Pleasant Hill, Ia.) managed a team-best nine rebounds coming off the bench.

Hayes, her team's leading scorer in the year, started 1 of 10 from the field but made four threes in the second half, as well as 10 of 10 free throws, to reach her game-high point total. Fifteen of her rebounds came at the defensive end and she went all 40 minutes. Next, Long carried the 'Hawks in the first half and ended with 21 points while post Joi Bertrand supplied 16 points, four boards and three blocks.

UNK heads to Washburn (10-4, 5-0) Wednesday night.