By Nick Hampton
TAHLEQUAH — It’s said that patience is a virtue. And the Northeastern State Lady RiverHawks were a testament to that statement Thursday night.
Using a patient, slow down offense and a tenacious defense, the RiverHawks upset 10th-ranked and previously undefeated Fort Hays State 54-44 in MIAA action at Jack Dobbins Fieldhouse.
First of all, the tenacious defense. The Tigers came into the contest averaging almost 80 points a game on the shoulders of their 6-4 center, Kate Lehman. But the RiverHawks’ Carrington Fox, with some help from her friends, kept Lehman smothered the entire night and Fort Hays’ outside shooting just couldn’t make up the difference.
Lehman, averaging over 17 points a game, was limited to just two points in the first half. Unfortunately, the RiverHawk offense didn’t fare much better in trying to shake off the rust of the two week layoff and at the half owned a one point lead, 19-18. Northeastern State shot just 26 percent from the field while FHS hit only 30 percent.
But in the second half, Coach Randy Gipson’s game plan started paying dividends as the offense starting finding the mark from the outside while running the shot clock down well into single digits on almost every possession.
“We wanted to make it a half-court game,” said Gipson, now in his 14th season at the helm. “They’ve run up some really impressive scores by making it a fast game and using their press to get the ball into Lehman’s hands.”
The score was tied at 21-21 with about five minutes gone in the second half when the RiverHawks started lighting it up from outside. In a two-minute span, Northeastern State’s two senior leaders, Tosha Tyler and Taylor Lewis, drained three treys between them to open up a seven point lead at 30-23. The Tigers cut that lead back to three at 37-34 with 5:40 to play. But Tyler and Lewis each hit another three pointer to up the lead back to 10 at 44-34.
“Our senior girls, those two in particular both played well,” said Gipson. “After we stretch the lead then they came back, those two each hit key shots to give us the win.”
Tyler led the way for RiverHawks with 19 points on the night and credits a lot of practice on post defense during the holidays to helping.
“We knew they liked to drive a lot so our defensive scheme was to be in held positions and clog up the lane,” said the Vinita senior. “We really worked on that lot in practice in for the most part we kept the ball out of the paint.”
Lewis added 17 points for the RiverHawks offensively and the Northeastern State defense held Lehman to just seven points, her lowest output of the season. The RiverHawks improved to 7-4, 2-1 in MIAA while Fort Hays State is now 10-1 and 2-1.
NSU 76, Fort Hays 61
Senior Jermaine Bransford collected a career high 16 rebounds and recorded his fourth double-double in the last five games to pace the RiverHawks to the victory.
Both teams shot near 40 percent from the field in the first half, but the RiverHawks used an eight-point advantage at the charity line, including 7-of-8 by sophomore Landon DeMaster, to build up a 38-29 half time lead.
The hot hand of Ethan Anderson paced the way for the RiverHawks in the second half as he scored 13 of his game-high 20 points. But, to the pleased eye of head coach Larry Gipson, it was the Northeastern State defense that played as much of a role in the victory as the timely shooting.
“We did an excellent job all night defensively. I think in the second half we just choked them off and did’nt let them score for a stretch there in the middle of the half,” said Gipson.
It was still a 10-point game until Anderson knocked down a pair of treys to give Northeastern State a 14-point advantage and they were never in trouble after that, stretching the lead as high 20 points, 65-45 with 8:31 to play.
In addition to Anderson, Bryton Hobbs had 19 points and Bransford 11 to complete his double-double. The Tigers (8-3, 2-1) were led by Lance Russell with 16 points.
With the win, the RiverHawks improve to 10-1 overall and retain a share of the lead in the MIAA with a 3-0 mark. Both NSU teams will be home Saturday to face Nebraska-Kearney beginning with the women’s game at 1:35 p.m.