The Emporia State men’s basketball team won its final tuneup contest before conference play Friday evening, shaking off an early post-Thanksgiving hangover to blowout the visiting Saint Mary Spires, 104-63.
Neither team looked impressive early on, as turnovers on both sides plagued the opening five minutes. The Hornets found themselves in an 11-6 hole at the 15:13 mark thanks to the slow start — and 3-3 three-point shooting by Spires’ guard Raylon Howard — but quickly flipped the script after a timeout from Head Coach Craig Doty.
“I think our guys ate too much turkey, dressing and pumpkin pie — at least that’s what it looked like the first couple minutes of the game,” Doty said. “After we burnt the timeout early, we got refocused. I think we played 35 minutes of really solid basketball tonight. What we always say is this: ‘It doesn’t matter who you’re playing against, you play hard all the time, you respect the game and you make the most of every opportunity.’”
The Hornets enjoyed a 19-0 run after the early stoppage, getting the majority of their production during the spurt from freshman guard Keyon Thomas. Thomas proved to be the difference maker in the first half, making all seven of his field goals on the night — including four from downtown — in the opening 20 minutes. His 19 points catapulted Emporia State to a 44-28 lead at the break and boosted the team’s shooting percentage during the half to over 50 percent.
“Tonight, I just tried to have a killer mindset,” Thomas — who finished with 21 points — said after the game. “I wanted to start my team off and be a leader. I knew if I started off with energy that the guys would pick up off of that.”
“We really liked Keyon’s performance in going against their first unit during most of his minutes tonight,” Doty added. “It’s his fourth straight game of scoring 20 or more points. It really shows you how tough that 19-year-old freshman is.”
The Spires never cut into their halftime disadvantage as ESU opened with a 7-0 run to take a 51-28 lead with just over 17 minutes remaining. Junior guard Zac Owens played the role of go-to guy in the second period, finishing the night with 24 points on 6-7 shooting, including a 4-5 mark from deep and 8-9 rate from the freethrow line.
“My teammates never gave up on me,” Owens said. “I’ve been down for a little bit lately, but Jumah’Ri [Turner] called me and just said, ‘Let’s get in the gym and let’s work.’ It paid off tonight, so I just give thanks to him and my coaches for giving me opportunities over and over again to show what I can do.”
Emporia State extended its lead to more than 40 points several times throughout the second half, taking its largest lead of 44 with under 30 seconds to play. The lopsidedness of the contest allowed Doty plenty of chances to substitute, mix lineups and get second- and third-unit players some valuable game-time experience headed into MIAA play. Each Hornet played at least six minutes on the night en route to outscoring the St. Mary’s bench 62-38.
“It’s always fun to see [bench players] do well,” Owens said. “It’s fun for everybody and lets everybody get a good feel. Next practice should be great because we just love when everybody contributes to a win.”
The Hornets (5-3) will be back in action 7:30 p.m. Tuesday as they take on conference foe Nebraska-Kearney (3-3) at White Auditorium.