If the Eastern New Mexico University women's basketball team was discouraged by its 0-10 start, the Zias aren't acting like it.
A blowout win over BYU-Hawaii to cap a three-day, round-robin event in Alaska in mid-December finally gave ENMU something to smile about, and the Zias returned from their holiday break on Monday with a solid 70-62 Lone Star Conference victory over Midwestern State at Greyhound Arena.
Freshman guard Ashlee Pierson had 18 points, senior guard-forward Tara Johnson scored 16 and junior guard Alexa Candelaria added 13 — all season highs — as the Zias (2-10, 1-3 LSC) simply refused to go away after MSU opened a five-point lead midway through the second half.
Pierson played 38 minutes in the game and Johnson was in for 37.
"It shows a lot of growth on our part to be able to come back like that," second-year ENMU coach Lindsey Wilson said. "(The BYU-Hawaii win) took a monkey off our shoulders."
The Zias turned a 50-45 deficit into a 10-point lead late with a 23-8 surge. For the game, ENMU — shooting only 34 percent and averaging 48.4 points for the season — hit 27-of-50 attempts for 54 percent.
"I feel like we had no target on our back, so we just went out and gave it all we had," Candelaria said.
Mustangs coach Noel Johnson said she'd never seen the Zias shoot that way, although Wilson pointed out they outscored Midwestern 40-24 in the paint.
"When you miss 11 layups and (nine) free throws and you don't block out, you're not going to win road games," Johnson said.
Meantime, ENMU managed to hold the Mustangs (7-3, 2-2) to 24 percent shooting in the second half on 8-of-33.
The Zias erased early 5-0 and 9-5 deficits and went back and fourth with the Mustangs early. MSU opened a 30-25 lead on as 3-pointer by Dianna Jones, but ENMU cut the margin to 34-32 at the half.
The 5-foot-8 Candelaria, who went 5-for-7 from the floor and also contributed five rebounds, four assists and three steals in 21 minutes, said she felt optimistic when the game didn't get away from the Zias after the intermission break.
"At the beginning of the second half we usually struggle, but we came out working," she said. "We're pretty excited with these two wins. Texas Woman's (the Zias' next opponent at 2 p.m. Saturday at Greyhound Arena) will be a tough one, but we're ready for it."
The Zias got a combined 14 points and 13 rebounds off the bench from junior guard Taylor Collier and freshman guard Jaylyn Cooper.
"Everybody that came in did their job, and that's huge for us," Wilson said.
Junior guard Kirsti Degelia scored 15 points for the Mustangs, while sophomore guard Shatoia Gober added 10.