Peter Yazvac, Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations
KEARNEY – Seniors Austin Luger and Jake Walker combined for 43 points to help Nebraska-Kearney edge Northeastern State, 72-66, Sunday evening at the Health & Sports Center.
The Lopers improve to 2-5 with its last five games having been decided by a total of 26 points. The RiverHawks, from Tahlequah, Okla., fall to 1-5.
“In the last four and half minutes we made plays down the stretch. A big part of that was (senior reserve guard) RJ Pair who came in energized. We saw a side of him we hadn’t seen in a while … he made some great passes and finished a couple of times. He played with an edge,” UNK head coach Kevin Lofton said. “Guys just fought and clawed and found a way to get it done.”
Walker (Centerville, Utah) scored 18 of his 25 points, tying a career-high, in the first half as UNK opened up a 37-30 cushion heading into the locker room. The sharpshooter made 7 of 13 shots including a 4 of 5 effort from the three-point line. Getting scoring from eight different players with none having more than 11, NSU started the second half on a 17-9 run to grab its second lead on the afternoon. Luger (Alliance) sunk a three to start the half but then UNK tallied just six points over the next seven minutes.
“I was concerned about Jake having 18 at the break. He played almost the entire half so I knew his legs would be a little tired. And when a jump shooter’s legs get tired that’s usually when they start to hit front rim,” Lofton said. “So we knew someone else was going to have to step up and I figured it would be Austin and he responded.”
UNK was down 53-50 at the 8:05 mark before Luger hit a jumper from inside the arc and then Walker followed with his lone second half trey. The quick 5-0 spurt gave the Lopers the lead for good and they moved ahead 68-58 with just over a minute remaining.
“It helped to have Austin step up. He’s done it all year to this point but he made a couple of timely baskets,” Lofton said.
Luger went 7 of 12 from the field over the final 20 minutes to score 16 of his 18. He also finished with a team-best eight rebounds (four offensive). UNK dominated on the glass, having a plus 12 margin which led to 17 second chance points. Also for the Lopers, Lincoln senior guard Sam Morris had 12 points, six boards and five assists with Wahoo sophomore reserve forward Winston Cook having three offensive caroms and a bucket in seven minutes. Finally, Pair had two assists, drew a foul and hit a bucket down the stretch with Walker 9 of 20 (5 of 8 threes) from the floor.
Two ‘Hawk starters and a reserve tallied 11 including post Obi Agu. The lefty from London made 5 of 9 shots in working around an apparent leg injury.
“We hope this is a step in the right direction. Fort Hays left here 0-3 but they got a big win at Kansas State. They’ve now won four in a row,” Lofton said. “Teams that have slow starts (1-5) can turn things around by winning a game like this. They get that monkey off their back and they go.”
The NCAA Division II moratorium runs from December 21-27 (no practices, meeting or games for all sports). The Lopers will resume workouts on December 28 in preparation for a January 7 game at Lincoln.