By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
The old adage “saving the best for last” certainly applies to Missouri Southern men’s basketball at Robert Ellis Young Gymnasium.
While there are many memories over 31 seasons of action, one of the Lions’ greatest victories was their 80-69 decision over No. 1-ranked Pittsburg State in the final game in Young Gymnasium on Feb. 20, 1999.
“It was a great atmosphere,” said Robert Corn, who has memories there as both a player and coach for the Lions. “The students really got involved in the game. We played really well and were able to beat a very good Pitt State team.”
A 15-footer by Mario Phillips, two free throws by Terry Shumpert and layup by Brian Taylor gave the Lions a 6-0 lead they never relinquished. A big key was the Lions’ 36-32 rebounding advantage after they had been outrebounded by 26 in an earlier game at PSU.
Carlos Newberry’s 15 points paced five Lions in double figures, followed by Eddin Santiago with 14, Taylor with 13, Schumpert with 12 and Larry Gause with 11.
“It was the greatest game since I’ve been here for four years,” season scoring leader Matt Olson, who was limited to six points by foul trouble, said in the locker room. “It was so much fun, a great atmosphere. You couldn’t ask for anything better from the fans. We did exactly what we had to do to get the win. It was fantastic.”
“What a way to go out,” Taylor said. “We played good in every aspect of the game. We rebounded well. We executed our plays. It was a memorable moment.”
“I’ll remember this as long as I live,” Phillips said. “Playing the No. 1 team in the country, Senior Night, my family was here, all the guys played hard. We stuck together as a team, all showed heart out on the court and came out with the win.”
“If a person wasn’t ready to play in this game, you’d have to check his pulse,” Corn said. “I told the team after the game that I don’t know if I ever had a group of young men who had the attitude they refused to surrender. They refused to fold. They played extremely hard the whole 40 minutes.
“We had a lot of really good battles with Washburn in that gym, too,” Corn said. “But I would say probably the one game that stands out the most is that last game with Pitt State.”
Who made the last basket?
Taylor made the Lions’ last field goal with 2:31 remaining, and Santiago made the last free throw with 32 seconds left.
But shortly after the postgame handshakes, athletics director Jim Frazier tossed the game ball to Corn, and Corn removed his jacket — most likely something he had done earlier in the night — and made a layup on the south goal.
“Another coach had done that after the last game in an arena,” Corn said. “Chris Lowery, my assistant at the time, and I were joking in the office, saying wouldn’t it be neat if we were able to do that.”
There’s another memory still fresh in some fans’ mind.
During halftime of the women’s game, the lion mascot was walking out on the court with the Seneca Lady Dribblers, elementary students who gave a dribbling exhibition.
Pittsburg State’s mascot came on the floor, kicked the lion’s tail a couple of times and then gave it a couple of soft kicks to the rear. The lion, who did make attempts to walk away, then retaliated, and the mascots attempted to put headlocks on each other.
As they fell to the floor in front of the scorer’s table, it took representatives from both schools to pry them apart. Both mascots were banned from the gym for the rest of the night.
The Lions compiled a 288-139 record in Young Gymnasium, including an 18-1 record in postseason play.
Missouri Southern’s women’s team, which lost its final game 63-47 to the Gorillas, were 220-89 in 25 seasons there and 15-4 in postseason games.
Ironically, the programs’ first game in Young Gymnasium also were against the Gorillas. Missouri Southern lost the first men’s game 62-55 on Dec. 9, 1968, but the Lions won the first women’s game 69-60 on Dec. 12, 1974.
There’s another full-circle story associated with the 1,700-seat gymnasium.
Guard Derek Krough played a few key minutes off the bench in the last game while some Lions were in foul trouble. His father, Ray Krough, was a starting forward on the Lions’ first team in 1968-69.