COLUMBUS, Neb. -- The old saying goes something like, "Tis better to give than receive."
The McCook High School girls took advantage of charity offered by Hastings Thursday, Dec. 27, in the first round of the Greater Nebraska Athletic Conference (GNAC) Tournament.
The Bison took advantage of free throw opportunities in the second quarter to key a 55-41 win over the Tigers in the opening round of the conference tournament Thursday evening. The game was played at the Raider Fieldhouse on the Central Community College campus just north of Columbus.
Hastings has not won a game in six starts this season, but the Tigers were primed early to stay in the game with the second seed Bison.
Brooklynn Trew's basket put McCook ahead 21-19 midway through the second quarter. The Bison outscored Hastings 11-3 the rest of the period -- seven points coming at the charity stripe -- to take a 32-22 halftime cushion.
Bison head coach Jeff Ellis, in a phone interview from Columbus Thursday night, said he liked McCook's effort in the second period. He said Brenleigh Daum hit 6 of 8 free throws in the second quarter, accounting for all her points in the contest.
"She was playing very aggressive and attacking the basket," Ellis said of his junior guard. "We hit free throws that helped us build momentum."
"Our mindset was to attack, and we did that. We scored 19 points in second quarter and extended the lead to double digits."
HASTINGS got within 37-29 late in the third quarter. But a pair of 3-point shots by senior Megan Ruppert in the final minute put the Bison back in control with a 43-29 advantage.
A field goal by senior Rachel Goltl, a free throw by senior Brooklynn Trew and Ruppert's field goal boosted the McCook lead to 50-34 less than four minutes left in the contest. Hastings would get no closer than 14 points the rest of the way.
Trew led the Bison with 13 points and Ruppert added 12. Junior Molly Sughroue had 8 points and Goltl chipped in 7 in a balanced McCook attack.
For the game, the Bison hit 17 of 25 free throws for 68 percent. Hastings was 13 for 21 at the line for 61.9 percent.
McCook led 13-12 after one quarter.
"In the first quarter we scored, but we just gave up too many points to a team that really hasn't been scoring a heck of a lot all year," Coach Ellis said. "Defensively we felt like we struggled a little bit in that first quarter, containing them more so than stopping them.
"At times we struggled a little bit. But in the long run, in the end -- which is what we're looking at most -- we found another way to win. I was pleased with our offensive approach. I was just a little bit disappointed in our defensive approach. We gave them some easy looks at the basket."
Elizabeth Franzen led Hastings with 11 points.
Coach Ellis said opponent's post players have been hurting the Bison in recent games. He would like to see more offensive production from senior starter Kassidy Gillen and her backups, and see a better defensive effort to slow down the Bison foe's big girls.
McCOOK, 8-1, advances to the GNAC semifinals Friday, Dec. 28, to face third seed Kearney, a 38-19 winner over Lexington in other first-round play Thursday. The Bison and 6-3 Bearcats will meet at 5:30 p.m. at the Columbus Senior High School gym for the right to advance to the GNAC Tournament girls championship finals Saturday, Dec. 29.
Coach Ellis said the Bearcats are a guard-oriented team.
"They are a decent team, not a whole lot of size -- we'll actually have a size advantage," he said. "They've got couple guards that have played for them last couple years."
COACH ELLIS said Kearney guard Wiemers is the hub of the Bearcat offense.
"They have one guard that attacks the basket," he said. "We've got to be ready to put a game plan together to stop her."
Norfolk and North Platte meet Friday afternoon in the other girls semifinal.