Zias’ rally comes up short

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Eastern guard Nikki Ingram shoots over Midwestern State forward Nolisha Markham during the second half of Wednesday’s game at Greyhound Arena.

By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer

PORTALES — If the Eastern New Mexico University Zias had known Wednesday’s Lone Star Conference South Division women’s game against Midwestern State would come down to the final possession, they might have found a way to start their comeback a tad earlier.

As it was, they nearly erased all of a 13-point deficit in the final five minutes, only to come up short 68-67 at Greyhound Arena.

After a strong game from the line by the Mustangs, junior guard Karissa Lang missed three consecutive free throws in the final 20 seconds before sinking one to make it 68-65. ENMU senior guard Vanessa O’Neal was then given a wide-open layup as time expired, preserving the victory.

The Zias (4-16, 2-6 South), who trailed 32-15 with seven minutes left in the half, mustered little offense in the first 35 minutes and seemed destined to go down to a double-digit defeat. Then the game suddenly turned.

“I was real proud of the effort in the second half,” ENMU coach Linden Weese said. “We got ourselves in position to get it done. I thought we played a lot harder in the second half.”

ENMU offered little resistance in the opening half. The Mustangs (7-13, 3-5) got quality shot after quality shot and went 18-for-32 from the field in building a 46-32 halftime lead.

The second half was a different story as Midwestern went just 4-of-23. The Mustangs were saved by going 14-of-19 from the free-throw line in the half, and 21-of-27 for the game.

“I think we got tired,” said Midwestern coach Noel Johnson, noting that guards Kirsti Degelia and Rebekah Cluley were lost to concussions in the second half. “We didn’t have the depth we’re used to. And we made poor decisions on offense.”

Senior forward Nolisha Markham, the team’s leading scorer, came off the bench in this one but still led the Mustangs with 19 points. Johnson said Markham also sustained a concussion during a practice last week.

Junior forward Cierra Thompson added 14 points for Midwestern, which won its first road game in 10 tries this season.

“There was kind of a sigh of relief (afterwards),” Johnson said. “I think that’ll give us a little confidence going into our next road game (Feb. 19 at West Texas A&M).”

Meantime, the Zias got 18 points from junior forward Precious Herrin and a season-best 12 off the bench — on 4-of-8 from 3-point range — by senior guard Lace Clark. Clark and 5-foot-7 freshman post Jade Brown (five points, six rebounds and four steals in 20 minutes) had solid games off the pines for the Zias.

“Those are the types of things we look for from those two kids,” Weese said. “I was real proud of Jade’s effort.”

Junior point guard Kiara Tate, who had started 14 of the team’s 19 games this season, sat with a muscle spasm in her neck suffered during practice.