Peter Yazvac, Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations
KEARNEY –Junior Klaire Kirsch scored a career-high 18 points and senior Kelsey Sanger added 17 as Nebraska-Kearney used a big second half to down Northeastern State, 68-56, Sunday afternoon at the Health & Sports Center.
The game was delayed a half hour due to a possible COVID issue within the NSU program. All tests came back negative so the contest went on as scheduled. UNK has its second straight 6-0 start while the RiverHawks, from Tahlequah, Okla., drop to 2-5.
The boisterous ‘Hawks came out on fire, using a full-court press and attacking the paint to lead 20-15 after the first quarter. Getting 14 first half points from sophomore post Zaria Collins, the ‘Hawks led 35-30 at the break as they made 15 of 33 shots (46%). NSU took advantage of 11 UNK first half turnovers, scoring 12 points off those miscues and getting off 13 more shots.
“It was our defense (that got us going). It’s something that’s everyone has been talking a lot about … how good our defense has been,” UNK head coach Carrie Eighmey said. “But I thought we came out today and our defense was not as good as it has been. We put them on the free throw line too much, we were letting them get catches inside the paint a little too easily. The difference in the third was we were able to get some stops and then come down and have good offensive possessions.”
Lopers had held its first five foes under 55 points and flashed that defense in the second half as the ‘Hawks tallied just 21. NSU was just 6 of 24 from the field (25%) with the Lopers committing only four turnovers. Offensively UNK warmed up as well, going 15 of 30 from the floor.
UNK closed the third quarter on an 8-2 run that featured scoring by four different players including Kirsch (Rapid City, S.D.) and Sanger (Crofton). Ahead 51-43 after this spurt, the Lopers quickly grabbed a double digit lead and were up 18 midway through the fourth.
Kirsch, whose previous career-best of 17 came last year vs. NSU, went 7 of 11 from the field and 4 of 6 at the line. As usual she did a little bit of everything to the tune of a team-best nine rebounds, a team-high six assists, and two steals. Sanger sunk both of the Lopers triples and finished 5 of 9 from the floor and 5 of 7 at the line. This is her first double digit effort since having 12 in a win at Fort Hays last February.
The Lopers didn’t allow Collins to score after the break. Senior guard Cenia Hayes finished with a team-high 16 with 10 of that coming in the second half. NSU did have an 18-9 advantage in points off turnovers but UNK’s bench outscored the ‘Hawks, 19-9.
Besides Kirsch and Sanger, Kansas junior Elisa Backes had another big effort off the bench (13 points and seven rebounds) with Iowa junior Maegan Holt at 11 points, three steals and six fouls drawn.
“Klaire and Kelsey gave us a really good boost in the third and fourth quarters,” Eighmey said. “They are probably two of our best at being able to find opportunities within the offense. They are good passes and back cutters … they are probably not going to take the most shots but they usually are efficient.”
The NCAA Division II moratorium runs from December 21-27 (no practices, meetings or games for all sports). The Lopers will resume workouts on December 28 in preparation for a January 7 game at Lincoln.