PORTALES — Coming off a 5-21 season with a first-year head coach, one might assume the Zias would find themselves overmatched in their season opener against the No. 6-ranked team in NCAA Division II.
This would not be the case Saturday night as ENMU battled down to the final minutes in their 84-74 loss to the Skyhawks at Greyhound Arena.
“That (effort) was the one thing we talked about tonight,” Zias coach Lindsey Wilson said. “We had to play hard all 40 minutes. I have no complaints about our effort.”
Fort Lewis stormed out to a 7-0 lead as the Zias struggled deciphering the Skyhawks’ fullcourt man-to-man defense, missing on their first four shots. Strong post play by senior Precious Herrin, a first-team All-Lone Star Conference South selection last year Precious Herrin, helped keep the Zias alive during the opening minutes.
“She’s probably the most talented kid I’ve ever coached — better than some Division I players,” Wilson said.
Herrin turned in a dominating offensive performance, shooting 12-for-18 from the field with 24 points and nine rebounds. Junior Hannah Altheide scored 16 points while Clovis senior Tori Northcutt, coming back after missing the 2010-11 campaign with a knee injury, added 15 points and five assists.
Two Skyhawks posted doubld-doubles — senior center Jenna Santisteven with 26 points and 11 rebounds and sophomore guard-forward Mary Rose Paiz with 13 points and 10 caroms. Also reaching double figures for the Skyhawks were sophomore guard Ashley Kuchar with 16 points and senior forward Dana Schreibvogel with 15.
The story of the first half was the Skyhawks’ ability to penetrate the Zias’ 2-3 zone and find open shooters around the perimeter. The Skyhawks led by 15 points at one time and went into intermission ahead 45-37 after shooting 53 percent from the field, including 6-of-11 from 3-point range.
“(It was a) good college basketball game,” Fort Lewis coach Mark Kellogg said. “We’re a good offensive team. We have a bunch of players who can score in different ways.”
After an ENMU timeout with 9:17 left in the half, Elida freshman Reavis Best provided a spark off the bench with a pair of 3-pointers during an 8-0 run as the Zias pulled within five points.
“I just told them to relax and hang in there, keep fighting,” Wilson said of the timeout.
ENMU closed within two oints on a pair of Northcut free throws with 13:13 remaining. Schreibvogel eventually gave the Skyhawks a seven-point lead with a 3-pointer from the left wing.
Herrin’s jumper on a Northcutt assist pulled ENMU within two with 9:30 left, but the Skyhawks pulled away down the stretch.
“We played well, but we can get better,” Herrin said. “We can always improve.
ENMU’s next outing is at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday as part of a men’s and women’s doubleheader against Oklahoma Panhandle State at Greyhound Arena.