When asked to give an opening statement at his post-game press conference Saturday, Northwest Missouri State women's basketball coach Mark Kellogg said, "I don't have an opening statement, so fire away."
Less than an hour before, a poor second half showing by Kellogg's Bearcats prevented them from delivering a closing statement on their tough two-game homestand.
After erasing a 12-point deficit to lead by one at the half, Northwest's bid for a second straight win over an upper-echelon MIAA team deteriorated over the final 15 minutes of a 72-58 loss to Emporia State in front of 1,204 at Bearcat Arena.
The Hornets outscored Northwest 38-23 in the second half and built as much as a 17-point lead.
Northwest never came closer than nine in the final four minutes.
The Bearcats, who shot 56 percent in the first half, went just 6-22 (.273) in the second half and missed all 10 three-point attempts. Emporia shot a so-so 41.4 percent in the second half, but connected on 9-16 shots from inside the arc and 11-13 free throws.
"We didn't make shots and we didn't get any stops," said Kellogg. "If you take out their bad three-point percentage, they shot it really well. Our defense inside the arc was not very good. They were getting layups and we were working too hard and didn't make any shots. Our energy was awful in the second half from the opening layup they scored to the last. You can't play like that in the second half and win against a quality team like Emporia. They just whipped us in the second half."
Northwest, which opened the homestand with an impressive 67-64 win over Northeastern State Thursday night, dropped to 11-8 overall and 5-6 in the MIAA.
This was only the Bearcats' second home loss in 10 games and first to a conference opponent.
Emporia State improved to 12-6 overall and 7-3 in the MIAA.
"I thought we battled for most of the game, but then our energy just died," said Kellogg. "Energy is defense and you're not going to beat good teams if we don't defend. It's not the end of the world, but we need to win at home and we didn't take care of business."
The Bearcats second half shooting woes dropped their final percentage to 42.6. The killers were going 3-17 from three and 15-24 at the foul line.
Northwest was coming off a game in which it made 12-24 three's and shot 50 percent in both halves.
"Northeastern, we had energy throughout the whole game," said Northwest sophomore center Maggie Marnin. "This time, it just wasn't there."
Marnin scored a team-high 17 points on 6-9 shooting, but just six of those came after the half.
Page 2 of 3 - The Hornets did a much better job contesting both her and sophomore forward Annie Mathews (14 points, eight rebounds) in the decisive portion of the second half.
Marnin and Mathews combined to go 8-11 with 19 points in the first half.
"We tried to get around in front of Mathews," said Emporia State head coach Jory Collins. "She's a very, very good back to the basket player, great post moves, can use both hands and is a load in there. Marnin, we let our bigs play behind her most of the time and just tried to contest and box. They did a good job of not letting it go in as easy as they did in the first half."
Northwest's only double-figure scorer from the guard spot was sophomore Ashleigh Nelson with 10 points, but she was only 3-10 the field and 1-6 from three.
All of Northwest's other perimeter players made two shots or fewer.
Point guard Monique Stevens, who was coming off a career-best 20-point game, had just five on 1-4 shooting and 3-7 at the foul line. Freshman Tember Schechinger made a pair of three's and totaled six points with eight rebounds. Nelson added a team-high eight assists.
Emporia State's left-handed guard Rachel Hanf led all scorers with 20 points and pulled down a team-high nine rebounds. She had 15 those in the second half along with two three-pointers.
"Hanf was great in the second half," said Kellogg who last faced ESU in the 2010 national championship game while at Fort Lewis (Colo.). "She just whipped us. We knew it and couldn't get a hand up. Bad close-outs. She's a good player, though. She's versatile. They hit some big shots. That's to their credit."
The Hornets other top scorers were Laura Patrick with 11 points and Merissa Quick with 10.
Desiree Wood and Rheanna Egli made three field goals each off the bench.
Patrick, who averages a team-high 15 per game, was only 4-16 and 1-11 from three.
The Hornets went 5-23 as a team, but were 21-34 (.617) on two-point shots.
Emporia scored the game's first five points and led for the first 16-plus minutes of the first half.
Jocelyn Cummings gave ESU its largest first half lead of 24-12 on a three with 9:57 left.
Northwest's deficit was 30-19 when they began a run of 16 straight points to go up five.
Back-to-back three's from Nelson and Schechinger followed by a three-point play on a rare Marnin elbow drive gave Northwest its first lead of 32-30 with 3:31 left.
A Marnin free throw and short bank shot made it 35-30.
Stevens had a one-on-one opportunity to put Northwest up seven, but missed a contested layup.
Page 3 of 3 - It led to a layup for opportunity for Emporia that ended the run. The Hornets scored again right before the half on a Cummings layup to make it 35-34.
"We were down one, but I still feel like we grabbed a little momentum there going into the half," said Collins. "They played better, we played worse the last 10 minutes. It was good to get it to one at the half."
Emporia kept momentum on its side to start the second half with four straight points from Hanf to take a 39-35 lead.
Consectuve Northwest post baskets tied it at 39.
The Bearcats tied it once more at 41 before Emporia took the lead for good on a pair of Hanf free throws with 13:46 left.
Three's by Hanf and Patrick sandwiched around a bunch of misses helped ESU extend its lead to six.
On back-to-back possessions that contained a Wylie three-point play and a Hanf three, it doubled to 12 with 8:22 to go
The Hornet lead stayed in double-figures until two Marnin free throws cut it 61-52 with 4:06 left.
Northwest got stops on five straight possessions at one point, but never got it below nine.
Their best chance came when Schechinger missed an open look at a three that would've got it to six.
Emporia used a 9-1 run consisting of seven free throws to lead 72-55 with under a minute left.
"We had plenty of opportunities," said Kellogg. "We kept it close enough most of the half, but we didn't string any offensive possessions with baskets and other then that one little stretch where they didn't score, we didn't stop them enough consecutively to ever make a legitimate run to either get a lead or minimize what they were doing to get us back in the game. We wanted it at a one or two-possession game and we didn't even get close."
After the homestand split, Northwest heads back on the road for its next two games against Fort Hays State and Washburn.