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The Antelope

On the edge of postseason play: Men’s basketball fights for 1-1 finish in weekend games

KOSUKE YOSHII / ANTELOPE STAFF Darrian Nebeker drives to the rim against a defender.

With 3:30 remaining and the Lopers nursing a 61-57 lead over Northeastern State, UNK point guard David Simental leaped into the air to grab a loose ball, but a RiverHawks player collided with him, jarring it loose. 

No foul was called on the play and it led to a wide-open Northeastern 3-pointer. With all of the momentum suddenly on their side, the RiverHawks finished the game on a 14-2 run to defeat the Lopers 71-63.

“It’s a tough one in that for 35 minutes I thought we played well enough to win it, but they had a better last five minutes than we did,” said UNK coach Kevin Lofton.

With the loss, the Lopers fell to 11th in the MIAA standings, which means they no longer control their own destiny to reach the conference tournament, as only the top 10 teams make it.

“If you win that, you don’t need other people to help you out, you just keep going about your business,” Lofton said. “Now, we gotta really, really win a lot down the stretch and probably get a little help above if it’s gonna happen. All we can do is control what we can control, take it one game at a time and if we don’t win, it don’t matter.”

Following the loss, the Lopers took Lofton’s message to heart and did exactly that in Saturday’s contest against Rogers State.

On the final possession of the first half, Simental was swarmed with Hillcat defenders. Just before the clock expired, he heaved up a 3-point attempt that miraculously banked in, sending the Lopers into halftime only down two. 

With the momentum on their side coming out of the locker room, the Lopers started the second half on a 12-3 run and maintained their lead until the end, winning 68-58.

“I thought we did a better job of cutting with our offense in the second half,” Lofton said.  “We were able to get guys free on our cuts and get some easy layups.”

The buzzer-beater shot from Simental definitely provided the much-needed spark for the Lopers heading into the second half.

“Coming out, our guys just refused to lose,” Lofton said.

Parker Badding led the team with 16 points and was on the court for the entire 40-minute game. UNK also had two other double-digit scorers, with Simental scoring 14 and Austin Luger adding 13 points and 11 rebounds. 

The loss to Northeastern was tough to swallow, but the Lopers took care of business against the Hillcats and will need to continue winning to get into the MIAA tournament.

Their next opportunities will come on the road at Central Missouri and Lincoln.

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KEVIN BURD, Sports Edior
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