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Slow start dooms Loper men

Slow start dooms Loper men

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Cedric Johnson

UNK’s Cedric Johnson (24) moves past Emporia State defender Brenden Van Dyke (24) Thursday night at UNK’s Health and Sports Center in Kearney.

KEARNEY — Weeks of preparation went out the window Wednesday morning when University of Nebraska at Kearney men’s basketball coach Kevin Lofton learned that he would be without three starters for Thursday’s season opener against Emporia State.

Starting three players who had never played in the MIAA before, Lofton’s Lopers came out on the short end of a 69-57 score at UNK’s Health and Sports Center.

“The bad news is we lost three guys that we’re really counting on. The good news is some young guys got baptized by fire and found a little confidence,” UNK coach Kevin Lofton said.

The game was in doubt up until a couple hours before tipoff because of coronavirus protocols that sidelined Jake Walker, Austin Luger and Sam Morris, UNK’s most experienced players.

And once the game started, it didn’t go well for the Lopers.

Darrian Nebeker, a transfer from Utah, scored the Lopers’ first two baskets. In between, Emporia put 12 points on the board. With just under 9 minutes to go in the first half, the Hornets led 27-11.

At halftime, it was a 19-point game, and the Lopers were shooting 33 percent to the Hornets’ 62 percent.

The second half was much better for the Lopers. They pulled within seven before Emporia went on a 12-3 run to maintain control.

“We knew the first half didn’t go the way we’d have liked it to with a young group out there,” Lofton said. “We had a couple international kids who got their feet wet that had never played outside competition in the state, so you know we played like a nervous team.

“The second half, we came out and RJ Pair stepped up and really provided some leadership and some scoring. Darrian Nebeker attacked the basket and then … Cedric Johnson was able to step up and make a few plays for us,” Lofton said.

Pair hit three 3-pointers in the Lopers’ run to start the second half. Johnson also contributed, finishing with a team-high 16 points.

“I look for Cedric to come out to play even better on Saturday. I look for all these guys to play a little bit better on Saturday, so we’re excited moving forward,” Lofton said. “We just have to get through this stretch and get our guys back and get our whole team together.”

Lofton does not expect the three starters will be available for Saturday’s home game with Washburn. He hopes they can play on Dec. 5.

buck.mahoney@kearneyhub.com

@HubSports_Buck

Emporia State 69, UNK 57

Emporia State (1-0)

Fort 0-1 0-0 0, Van Dyke 3-6 1-1 8, Thiessen 3-5 0-2 7, Downing 4-8 2-2 12, Turner 5-11 2-2 13, Bailey 3-4 0-0 7, Bum 4-5 0-0 9, Reid 3-6 0-0 8, McGuine 2-6 0-0 4, Smith 0-0 0-0 0, McCray 0-0 0-0 0, Kong 1-2 0-0 2, Oglesby 0-0 0-0 0. Total 29-54 5-7 69.

UNK (0-1)

Brien 2-7 1-2 6, Nebeker 3-5 1-2 7, Arnold 0-2 0-0 0, Pair 4-10 0-0 11, Johnson 6-12 3-5 16, Cook 2-4 1-1 5, Fraser 1-8 0-0 3, Fritz 3-6 0-0 9, Valasek 0-1 0-0 0. Total 21-55 6-10 57

Halftime — ESU 43, UNK 24.

3-pointers — ESU 8-22 (Downing 2-6, Reid 2-4, Turner 1-3, Bailey 1-2, Van Dyke 1-2, Thiessen 1-1, McGuire 0-3, Fort 0-1), UNK 9-29 (Pair 3-6, Fritz 3-6, Fraser 1-6, Brien 1-5, Johnson 1-3, Arnold 0-2, Valasek 0-1). Rebounds — ESU 35 (Van Dyke 5, Thiessen 5), UNK 28 (Nebeker 7). Assists — ESU 16 (Downing 5, Bailey 5), UNK 16 (Johnson 5). Turnovers — ESU 12, UNK 11. Steals — ESU 7 (Van Dyke 3), UNK 4 (Johnson 2). Att. — 160.

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