Kearney, Neb. — Neb.-Kearney scored the first two points but Emporia State had the next 12 and never looked back on the way to a 69-57 Hornet win on Thursday night in Kearney, Neb.
“People don’t understand how an off season goes for a coach when they finish the season 1-13 overall, especially when they are used to competing at a championship level,” said Emporia State head coach Craig Doty. “To get that win took the bad taste out of my mouth. I wake up every morning, I’ve been rinsing with mouthwash and couldn’t get that bad taste out of my mouth. After today the mouthwash isn’t needed.”
After Cedric Johnson opened the scoring for the Lopers with 19:15 left, Brenden Van Dyke gave the Hornets the lead 19 seconds later when he got a hoop and the harm. Austin Downing and Jumah’Ri Turner traded scores over the next three minutes as Emporia State opened up a 12-2 lead with 15:50 left in the first half.
“We started four seniors and they were really excited to play,” said Doty. “We’re really big and teams can’t emulate that in practice. When they see that size and defensive intensity it takes a while for them to get adjusted.”
The Hornet lead was at 17-11 after Winston Cook converted an old-fashioned three point play for the Lopers with 13:19 left. Emporia State then went on a 10-0 run capped by back to back three-pointers from freshman Nick Reid to push the lead to 27-11. Johnson scored on an elbow jumper with 8:32 left to break the run but Downing and Mason Thiessen hit back to back three-pointers to give Emporia State their biggest lead of the half at 32-13 with 6:09 remaining. The two teams played even the rest of the half with a Kong Kong fast break dunk giving the Hornets a 43-24 lead at the break.
The Lopers opened the second half with a 14-2 run in which they hit six of ten shots to pull within 45-38 with 14:42 left. Mayuom Buom and Dallas Bailey answered for the Hornets with back to back layups to push the lead back to double figures before Reid capped the 6-0 run with a bucket inside for a 51-38 lead with 13:05 remaining. Gage McGuire got a fast break layup with 10:18 left to give the Hornets a 57-41 lead.
UNK made one more run, this one 11-4, to cut the deficit to single digits at 61-52 with 6:15 left. A pair of midrange jumpers from Turner around a Cedric Johnson fast break gave Emporia State a 65-54 lead with 3:49 remaining. Van Dyke dunked on a baseline move with 2:08 left to make it 67-55 and each team hit a pair of free throws in the final 1:10 to give Emporia State a 69-57 season opening win.
Austin Downing scored 14 points to lead a balanced Hornet scoring attack. He was joined in double figures by Jumah’Ri Turner with 11 points while Brenden Van Dyke, Mayuom Buom, and Nick Reid all scored eight points with Mason Thiessen and Dallas Bailey chipping in seven points. Van Dyke and Thiessen each had five rebounds while Downing and Bailey both dished five assists.
“We’ll enjoy this one, we’ll build on it as a confidence booster,” said Doty. “But we’ve got to turn around, drive to Hays and prepare for that game because we know it’s going to be competitive and that’s a tough place to play.”
The Hornets will travel to Fort Hays State on Saturday for a 4:00 p.m. tip off against the Tigers.
“Emporia State has not had athletic competition for 249 days. For us and the women’s team to be the first teams to compete and get back on the floor, I think is a testament to our administration at Emporia State,” said Doty. “From the Presidential level who worked so hard to keep our campus and community safe to our athletic administration and the MIAA conference office, they have worked so hard at this, so for us to just be able to go out and compete was a win in itself.”
“We don’t know if we’re going to get to play one game this year, two games or 22. We don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring,” said Doty. “We’re in such a different world right now. Tonight was a chance to play, we still have a long ways to go but this one feels good and we’ll get back to work tomorrow.”
The Hornets have opened MIAA play with a win in all three of Coach Craig Doty’s seasons at Emporia State.