By Mickey Winfield, PNT Staff Writer
The Eastern New Mexico University Zias have matched their best start in team history thanks to solid free-throwing shooting down the stretch.
With Heather Brown leading the way, Eastern converted 11 of 13 free throws in the final 3:13 to hold off pesky Oklahoma Panhandle State 77-70 Thursday in a non-conference game at Greyhound Arena.
Brown finished with a game-high 24 points, including a 10-of-10 from the free throw line, as the Zias improved to 6-1, which matches last year’s start.
“We saved ourselves at the free throw line and did a good job there,” first-year Zias coach Linden Weese said. “I think that’s one of our strengths without question, we’re tough enough to get ourselves there and we usually do a pretty good job once we get there.”
The Zias led most of the way, including by as much as 10 points on two different occasions in the first half, but ENMU women never able to fully put OPSU away until the final moments.
“We would get a lead, and then we’d let them back in it,” Weese said. “I just don’t think we played hard tonight all the way through like we need to.”
Eastern forward Elizabeth Richards of Texico recorded her first double-double of her career, compiling 15 points and 10 rebounds.
“As a team, I don’t know that we played all that great,” Richards said. “I think we just need to mature as a team, and be a little more disciplined. We lost a little bit of intensity, and we could just never get it all back.”
Richards also recorded four blocked shots and four steals.
Junior forward Sara Polson led the Lady Aggies (1-7) with 17 points and senior Nina Kuleff added 11 points and 11 rebounds.
The Zias led at the half 43-35, despite OPSU hitting 6 of 9 three-point attempts in the first half.
“When anyone is 6 of 9 in the first half its going to concern you,” Weese said. “We talked about going out and defending them from the start. We just weren’t out far enough. We came out in the second half, and made them put the ball on the floor more, and I think that helped us.”
The Lady Aggies were 2 of 9 from long range in the second half.
Sophomore Lindsey Wood added nine points for the Zias while senior Megan Ratliff and freshman Kristal Hill contributed eight points each.