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Basketball: Kovtun helps Pioneers stay unbeaten at home

Profile image for By Patrick Hayslip / Staff Writer
By Patrick Hayslip / Staff Writer

TWU senior center Mary Kovtun had a good feeling heading into Sunday night’s Lone Star Conference game against Midwestern State, and she rode her positive vibes to perhaps her best, all-around performance of the season as the Pioneers stayed undefeated at home with a 66-65 win at Kitty Magee Arena.

“This is definitely her best game of the year,” TWU head coach Beth Jillson said. “I felt like she should be defensive player of the week. She just alters so many shots. She had three blocks last game and two tonight. She did a great job defensively, but she really dominated tonight. She has a lot improvement left to do, but she’s taking steps each game.”

Along with her towering defensive presence, Kovtun hit the go-ahead free throw with 31 seconds remaining and led all players with 19 points and nine rebounds.

“We really wanted to get a lot of post touches,” Jillson said. “I thought our posts did a great job of wanting the ball, especially Mary. We just kept going to her in pressure situations. She wanted the ball — she was confident, she went up strong. She was in the zone tonight.”

Despite taking the one-point lead, the Mustangs still had a shot to sneak away with the road victory and it was the Pioneers’ defense that bowed up and snuffed out Midwestern State’s last-ditch efforts.

“I know I’m the tallest player on the court, so I can block shots,” Kovtun said. “I was waiting for them to come, so I was feeling confident that I could defend the basket. I felt like my [offensive] game was good inside, so they were trying to get me the ball more. I tried to draw fouls and finish inside. I let my fears go and felt confident to go score.”

TWU (7-8, 3-3 conference) held the rebound advantage 36-27, but they frequented the free-throw line several times down the stretch while shooting efficiently from the field to the tune of 45 percent.

The Pioneers owned a six-point edge at 61-55 with 2:43 remaining, but Midwestern used a 10-4 rally with two crucial TWU turnovers to tie the game at 65.

Even though the Mustangs (10-7, 2-4) shot just over 43 percent from the field, the Pioneers battled throughout the game and delivered key blocks or came up with pivotal steals to stymie Midwestern State’s attack.

“Defensively, we played tough for 40 minutes,” Jillson said. “We had couple letdowns here or there, but I was really proud of the way we responded. We had a couple of really huge charges that really changed the momentum for us. That’s what we talk about all the time is get it done defensively and your offensive will come. I felt like [the Mustangs] had a tough time getting into a rhythm the whole game.”

Senior guard Rebekah Cluley added 14 points, four assists and a block for the Pioneers, who were fresh off their second road win of the season. TWU beat Cameron 66-53 on Thursday before moving its home record to 6-0.

“It was good to get the monkey off our back, but not only that, it was a really important conference win,” Jillson said of the Pioneers’ win over Cameron. “It was a win that we needed if we are going to accomplish our goals. I think this team is going to get better and better with the more confidence that we get.”

Junior forward Ria Pateraki and junior guard Ashley Salazar also added eight points each for the Pioneers, who will travel to Portales, N.M., on Thursday to face LSC foe Eastern New Mexico (4-8, 2-1).

PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.