By Dave Wagner, Freedom Newspapers
For as many close games as have gone against them in Lone Star Conference South Division play, Eastern New Mexico University’s women got one back Thursday night.
Fighting to stay alive for a berth in the conference postseason tournament, the Zias faced an early double-figure deficit for the fourth time in their last five games. On this night, though, senior guard Heather Brown’s two free throws with 16 seconds left lifted ENMU to a 66-65 win over Texas Woman’s at Greyhound Arena.
One week after losing in overtime after a last-second Texas Woman’s shot in regulation bounced off the rim and fell in, ENMU held on down the stretch when Pioneers post Margaret Wimbish had the ball stripped out of her hands on a double-team by Lindsey Wood and Megan Ratliff as time ran out.
The win keeps the last-place Zias (11-10, 2-7 South) alive for one of four spots from the division in the tournament. They have five games left — four at home.
“We have every chance to be in the tournament,” said Ratliff, who played 11 solid minutes off the bench. “We have that motivation, and we’re not going to give up.”
Brown finished with 20 points, including 5-of-7 from 3-point range. Backup guard Missy Kirkland added 13, and senior forward Elizabeth Richards finished with 10 points and 13 rebounds.
“I was pretty disappointed with the way Heather Brown got some good looks; she’s a great player,” Pioneers coach Rene Hanebutt said. “But I thought we kept (Richards and senior post Riikka Lehtonen) in check; they hurt us at our place.”
The Pioneers roared to a 23-9 lead barely eight minutes into the game. Guard Maggy Deweber scored 16 of her team’s first 18 points — in barely 6 1/2 minutes — with four 3-pointers and 6-of-7 shooting.
“She played well,” Hanebutt said of Deweber, who went 8-for-12 from the floor for 21 points after coming in averaging just 8.3. “She shot the ball well early and got us off to a good start.”
The sluggish Zias fell behind when Deweber drilled a 3-pointer on the Pioneers’ first possession and never caught up until Brown’s two free throws tied the score 62-62 with 1:58 left. Her game-winning charities gave ENMU its only lead.
“We did not come out well at all,” Ratliff said. “There’s no excuse for the way we came out. We have to go at it for the whole 40 minutes.”
The Zias hung just close enough throughout the second half to give them hope.
“We finally decided we’re going to have to earn it,” ENMU coach Linden Weese said. “Teams aren’t going to give it to us just because we’re at home.”