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The Antelope

Men’s basketball season ends with 2 close losses

KOSUKE YOSHII / ANTELOPE STAFF Austin Luger scored 17 points in his final game for the Lopers.

The UNK men’s basketball season came to a close last week, after a pair of losses to Northwest Missouri State and Missouri Western State. The Lopers entered the game against Northwest Missouri with a sliver of hope to reach the MIAA conference tournament.

UNK was in a must-win situation against the back-to-back national champions, but the Bearcats, who had lost two straight games coming into the matchup, found a way to come out of the Health and Sports Center with a 77-67 win.

“These guys tonight are obviously defending national champs,” UNK coach Kevin Lofton said. “They’ve been dominant in our conference forever and our kids stood up to them. When your kids give everything they have and they come up short, as a coach you can’t help but be proud of them.”

UNK held a one-point lead two minutes into the second half, but the Bearcats went on a 10-0 run to take a 43-34 lead. The Lopers maintained their composure and went on a run of their own to recapture the lead 45-43.

With 5:50 left in the contest, the back-and-forth game was tied at 59, but Northwest Missouri finished on an 18-8 run to crush the Lopers’ postseason chances.

“Our guys came right back and really put ourselves in position with the under-five to maybe get out of here with it, but they made a few more plays than we did,” Lofton said.

The Lopers were led by guard David Simental, who had 27 points and seven rebounds. Simental also played for the entire game.

After being eliminated from postseason contention on Wednesday, UNK made a change to its starting five for Friday’s senior day matchup against Missouri Western. Nick Huston entered the lineup, marking his first start for the Lopers in his final game.

UNK was severely outrebounded, with the Griffons grabbing 18 offensive rebounds. Even with the major disadvantage on the boards, the game still featured 21 lead changes, with the Lopers even having an opportunity to hit a game-tying 3-pointer with eight seconds remaining. The shot was missed and Missouri Western won 76-74.

“They got loose on us late in the game with some drives to the rim that hurt us,” Lofton said. “Even then, we still had our chances there the last couple possessions, but it just didn’t work out for us”.

Although an 11-17 finish to the season is disappointing, the Lopers did show their competitive nature down the stretch. Their final four losses were all by under 10 points, with UNK having opportunities in each to come out with a victory in the final minutes.

“We got better as a team as the year went on,” Lofton said. “I think we’re playing our best basketball at the end of the year, unfortunately, this is the last game.”

Outside of Huston, the other two seniors for UNK were Parker Badding and Austin Luger, who have been on the team for their entire collegiate careers.

“It’s undeniable that they reached their full potential,” Lofton said. “I think we got everything out of them that we could. They put a lot of hard work and sweat equity into it, and they got out of it what they put into it. I just wish we would’ve won a few more games when they were here, but we couldn’t have found a better group of guys to represent our program while they were here.”

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KEVIN BURD, Sports Edior
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