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Leading scorer out as men’s basketball beats Mules

RYAN RANGE / ANTELOPE STAFF Winston Cook went to the free-throw line to capitalize on a foul from Central Missouri.

The Loper Men’s Basketball team hosted the Central Missouri Mules Feb. 18. UNK achieved their largest margin of victory on the year as they dominated the Mules 74-51.

The Lopers also gave up the least amount of points scored against thus far.

“I really thought our guys went out and defended at a pretty high level,” said head coach Kevin Lofton. “We shared the ball at a really high level.”

The Lopers saw 21 assists across the team and seven offensive rebounds. After establishing a healthy 21-12 lead, UNK went on a 13-6 run to extend their lead to 34-18 in the first half.

“Darrian Nebeker was able to come out and establishing in himself for the fourth straight game that he has played really well for us,” Lofton said. “When he gets off to a great start attacking the basket that really helps us out.”

Nebeker led the team with 15 points and eight rebounds on 38 total minutes played. He also had four assists to help out the team offensively.

“I felt like we made some really good passes,” Lofton said. “We shared the ball and had some good cuts to the rim. Got some easy opportunities that way as well.”

The Lopers held steady in the second half as well, allowing them to clear their bench and give everybody on the team some playing time. Guard T.J. Fritz made the most of his opportunity, drilling a three-pointer with 2:27 left in the game.

“I was happy to see that we were able to get some of the guys that have been working extremely hard in practice and hadn’t seen before yet,” Lofton said. “They got a chance to get out there and give a good effort for us.”

One dark spot on the Loper victory was a leg injury to guard Jake Walker with 1:39 to go in the first half. Walker is UNK’s leading scorer this year averaging 15.4 points per game.

“It’s definitely tough to see him go out like that with all that he has done for us over the last two years, especially with the work he has put in to try to put him in a position to have a really good senior year,” Lofton said.

Forward Austin Luger and Guard Matt Brien contributed 13 points each for the Lopers. Forward Winston Cook also came off the bench and played well contributing eight points and four rebounds. Guard Cameron Hunter with 14 points and guard Jalen Blaize with 13 points led the Mules in scoring.

UNK faced off against the Lincoln University Tigers on Feb. 20 for their senior day as they honored Guards Sam Morris and R.J. Pair as well as Walker and Luger.

In their first game without their leading scorer, UNK got off to a rough start falling behind 3-14 six minutes into the game. The Lopers came back, cutting the lead to 38-43 at halftime.

“Not having Jake [Walker] to give you 14 points a game kind of hurt us, but our guys fought in the first half when it looked like we were going to get run out of the gym and put themselves within striking distance at halftime,” Lofton said.

The Lopers kept fighting throughout the second half and took the lead 63-61 with 1:34 left to play on a three-pointer by Brien. The Tigers tied the game at 63 a piece with a bucket by guard Quinton Drayton.

Nebeker was fouled on the ensuing possession and made both free throws to give the Lopers the lead back at 65-63. Drayton scored to tie the game 65-65 with 20 seconds to go. The Lopers put the ball in Nebeker’s hands for the possession.

“We were going to put it in his hands,” Lofton said. “He was the best player on the floor to have it. In that situation, he had the ball and he had the confidence.”

Nebeker was double -teamed and tried to split the gap between the defenders. The ball got loose in the midst of the legs of the three players before finding its way into the hands of Lincoln guard Yaniel Vidal. Vidal dribbled down the court and drilled a buzzer-beater three-pointer to win the game 65-68.

“They came over and made a good play,” Lofton said. “[Nebeker] just kinda lost it there. [Vidal] made a huge shot and to pull-up for a three in that situation took some guts.”

With this loss, the Lopers’ chances to qualify for the MIAA tournament narrow. Their last two regular-season games are on the road next week against Northwest Missouri State and Missouri Western State.

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GRANT TIGHE, Sports Editor
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