Tiana Bryant lets a one-handed shot fly in the paint during the second half of Thursday’s Lone Star Conference crossover game against East Central. (Freedom Newspapers: Kevin Wilson)
By Jesse Wolfersberger: CNJ staff writer
PORTALES — Eastern New Mexico University guard Heather Brown is money from the free throw line — she leads the Lone Star Conference, shooting at a 92-percent clip.
On Thursday, the Hereford grad also proved she could knock down 3-pointers when it counted, hitting a pair of treys in the final four minutes to lead the Zias past East Central 58-53 at Greyhound Arena.
The junior is a 35-percent shooter from 3-point range on the season and was 4-of-10 on Thursday.
“She’s been kind of that way,” ENMU coach Dan Buzard said. “Whenever you need a 3-pointer she’ll hit it.”
Tiana Bryant added 15 points for the Zias, who snapped a six-game losing streak.
Down 51-48 late in the second half, Brown tied the game with a 3-pointer from top of the key. Brown hit another 3 to put the Zias up 54-53 with less than a minute to play.
“Megan (Ratliff) got the rebound and they all collapsed on her,” Brown said. “I was like, ‘Megan, Megan.’ I knew it was going in as soon as I let go.”
After a Zias defensive stop, East Central (5-7) sent Brown to the line for a 1-and-1 opportunity.
East Central coach Kent Franz said he knew Brown was deadly from the line, but had to intentional foul to get the ball back.
“We didn’t want to foul her, obviously,” East Central coach Kent Franz said. “But we couldn’t get the ball out of her hands, so that’s what we ended up doing.”
Brown sank both free throws to put the Zias (7-7) ahead by three. She finished with 13 points.
“We’ve been itching for a win,” Brown said. “We finally got it. It felt so good. It was like a weight lifted off all our shoulders. I’m glad that we finally won.”
The Zias’ surprising leading rebounder was Brittney Gillespie with nine. She came in averaging 2.8 rebounds per game.
East Central’s Amber Gatlin, who hit four 3-pointers in the game, had a couple of looks for the tie in the waning seconds, but they did not fall. Sophomore Erika Cook corralled a rebound for the Zias and was immediately fouled. The Portales alum sank both shots to put the Zias safely ahead.
After winning six out of their first seven games, the Zias dropped six straight, the last five while on the road.
“I thought it was a hard-earned win for our kids,” Buzard said. “We finally played well enough to win one of the close ones. It kind of gets the monkey off our back.”
Buzard thought his team’s defense was key against the Lady Tigers, who came in averaging 67.8 points per game.
“I thought we played really hard on defense,” Buzard said. “We let them have a few shots that we didn’t want them to, but that’s gonna happen against anybody.”
Gatlin lead East Central with 14 points followed by Kacey Thomas with nine.