If the night for Eastern New Mexico junior Hannah Altheide wasn’t enough indication, there was plenty of evidence to show that it didn’t matter how the Zias started Wednesday night, but how they finished that would matter the most.
After letting a 12-point lead slip away in the second half, Eastern New Mexico made plays late, keeping their Lone Star Conference tournament hopes alive Wednesday with a 72-64 overtime win against Cameron at Greyhound Arena.
Precious Herrin posted a double-double with 22 points and 10 rebounds, but made her two biggest plays late defensively, and Altheide hit two big shots late to score 10 points on a 3-of-10 night from the field.
“It was tough early, since I wasn’t hitting,” said Altheide, who hit a baseline 3-pointer with 2:08 left in regulation and a backdoor layup for a 69-64 lead with 1:15 left in the extra frame. “Coach always tells us don’t quit shooting. If my feet are set, I’m going to shoot it.”
Herrin, meanwhile, closed out matters on Cameron’s ensuing possession by blocking Nicole Pendarvis’s baseline jumper and stealing the ball away after Pendarvis grabbed the offensive rebound.
“I was thinking, ‘We’ve got to get the win,’” Herrin said. “This team hasn’t been to (the conference tournament) in, I don’t know how long. I want to be part of history, and I just try to make whatever plays I need to make to help us win.”
The Zias (10-15, 8-11 LSC), who held the eighth and final seed after Thursday’s LSC action, will clinch their first tournament appearance since 2004 with either a win Saturday at Midwestern State or a loss by Abilene Christian at Tarleton State. The host TexAnns will be trying to lock up the No. 1 seed.
A Zia loss and Wildcat win Saturday would create a four-way tie for seventh place between ENMU, ACU, Texas A&M-Kingsville and either Incarnate Word or Texas Woman’s, who play each other Saturday. The Zias, at 2-4 in either of those four-way head-to-head matchups, would be eliminated.
Heading into Wednesday, Cameron coach Tom Webb knew the Aggies (15-9, 11-8) couldn’t finish higher than fourth or lower than fifth. But the loss was still frustrating, with the Zias going on a game-ending 13-1 run after the Aggies took their biggest lead of the night — 63-59 — on Alexis Williams’ NBA-range 3-pointer with 3:17 left.
“We didn’t execute offensively,” Webb said. “You can’t break down offensively, you can’t miss layups. We missed a lot of layups.”
Williams led the way for the Aggies, scoring 21 of her game-high 29 points on 7-of-11 shooting in the second half.
Kiara Tate scored 17 for the Zias, including an 8-of-8 night from the free-throw line.
The Zias opened the game with a 7-0 run and led most of the night. But even heading into overtime, knowing that blowing the game would torpedo the team’s playoff chances, Zias coach Lindsey Wilson said the mood was optimistic.
“They were upbeat,” Wilson said. “They were exhausted, without a doubt, 100 percent. But we just said, it’s just five more minutes.”