Zias beat MSU to end South slide

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo ENMU forward Til-Lois Fifer scores after grabbing an offensive rebound during the first half of Saturday’s Lone Star Conference Saturday during the first half of the Zia’s game against Midwestern State.

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico

Midwestern turnovers became Zias points, a warddrobe full of promo T-shirts blasted from the school’s air cannons and Eastern New Mexico University’s fans were celebrating well ahead of the Zias’ victory lap with the Greyhound Arena crowd.

Lone Star Conference South wins haven’t been commonplace for the Zias, but they hope Saturday night’s 70-56 win over Midwestern State changes that.

“We’ve been hungry all season,” guard Tori Northcutt said after posting 10 points and 10 assists against just one turnover. “We’d play great (for) 32 and 33 minutes and then have lapses. We came out tonight and played for 40 minutes.”

Cat Clay scored 17 points to lead four in double figures for the Zias (6-13, 1-3 South), who got their first division win since beating Midwestern on March 1, 2008.

Zias coach Linden Weese said it was a mix of the combined 30-point night from posts Kara Bible and Til-Lois Fifer, and the defense of guard Vanessa O’Neal that kept the Mustangs out of the hunt.

“Her assists would like that every night if we can have our posts get that kind of production,” Weese said, “and I thought Vanessa O’Neal completely disrupted their offense.”

Northcutt had her standard stat-sheet filler with three steals and a pair of blocks, but she credited the posts with running the floor in transition and opening up the outside for five second-half 3-pointers for ENMU to break the game open.

“When the posts got a few baskets, it opened up the shooters a lot,” said Northcutt, who had two 3-pointers during a 19-10 stretch in the second half. “The defense had to collapse and we started getting open looks.”

Midway through the run, the Zias got a 3-point play from Fifer, whoon a transition feed from Northcutt and hitting the ensuing free throw to pus the lead to 50-36. Fifer scored 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while Bible added 14.

Clay moved to 19th on the school scoring list, but had plenty of help on the night.

“We knew Cat Clay was going to get her looks, but Northcutt got some looks and (Alex) Ortiz got a few looks, too,” Midwestern coach Noel Johnson said. “We didn’t respond well, (and) we didn’t hit shots.”

The Mustangs (6-9, 0-3), led by Aqueelah Watkins’ 12 points, host Texas A&M-Kingsville Tuesday.

The Zias never trailed by more than three, led throughout the second half and got 21 assists against 11 turnovers.

“We held them off the whole night,” Weese said. “Northcutt got the ball where it needed to be and we shot well from the free throw line.”

The Zias take a rest until Saturday, but Northcutt hopes the momentum stays.

“We needed to get over the hump,” she said. “We’ve got Angelo State, and then we’ve got West Texas (A&M on Feb. 3).We know we’re going to have to keep pushing ourselves.”