PORTALES — Kiara Tate made perhaps a game-saving play at the end of Saturday’s Lone Star Conference women’s clash against Texas A&M-Commerce, but she may have paid a big price for it.
With the Zias holding a three-point lead after Commerce’s Danielle Dixon missed a 3-point try in the closing seconds, the senior guard from Chicago managed to save the ball in to teammate Tara Johnson with less than two seconds left. But she sustained a neck injury and was taken off the court on a stretcher.
Johnson, fouled with 1.2 seconds remaining, made both free throws to seal the Zias’ grindy 58-53 win over the last-place Lions, who suffered their 20th consecutive loss.
Tate’s status for this week’s final two games is unclear, but the Zias (9-15, 7-11 LSC) managed to keep themselves in a three-way tie for sixth with Incarnate Word, which played later Saturday at Angelo State, and Texas A&M-Kingsville. ENMU hosts Cameron on Wednesday and plays at Midwestern State on Saturday.
The top eight teams make the LSC tournament Feb. 29-March 4 at Allen, Texas.
Tate, the Zias’ second-leading scorer, struggled with only six points against the Lions (1-23, 0-18), but she did have team highs of eight rebounds and five assists.
ENMU led virtually all the way, but was fortunate to come out on top.
“We can’t play that way these last two games of the season, or we’ll be in trouble,” Zias coach Lindsey Wilson said. “But we found a way to win.”
ENMU led 17-8 early, but Commerce extended its defense fullcourt and bothered the Zias much of the rest of the way. Johnson’s late free throws gave her team scoring honors with 11 points, while senior forward Precious Herrin and senior guard Karen Tate each had 10.
“We started off well, but then we fell off,” said Grant, who as a sophomore in 2009-10 sustained a season-ending ACL injury in the opener. “We just have to keep that intensity going.”
With Tate potentially out, it falls upon others to pick up the slack.
“I’m ready to step up,” Grant said. “When (senior point guard) Tori (Northcutt) got hurt last year (in preseason), I had to step in for her.”
The athletic Lions started 6-for-11 from the field, but went 14-of-57 over the final 32 minutes, including 1-of-13 for the game from 3-point range.
A 56 percent team from the free throw line, they stayed close by hitting 12-of-15 foul shots.
“That shows the strength of the Lone Star Conference,” Wilson said. “They’re a good basketball team, and they gave us all we wanted.”
Sophomore forward Breanna Harris had 13 points for A&M-C despite being hampered by fouls. Senior forward Apreia Booker came off the bench to add 10 points.