By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
It was two nights of Missouri Southern basketball unlike any other — past or future.
One year ago this week, new Missouri men’s basketball coach Frank Haith brought his team to Joplin to play an exhibition game against the Lions in front of a packed Leggett & Platt Athletic Center and a national audience on ESPN.
Six days later, Missouri State’s Bears — guided by former Missouri Southern assistant Paul Lusk — and Lady Bears played the Lions before a near-capacity crowd.
Proceeds from both nights were given to relief efforts from the May 22, 2011 tornado that struck Joplin.
“Both of those were events,” men’s coach Robert Corn said. “With everything this community had gone through in May, and then to have the opportunity to play those two games here at home, the events were far greater than the games. That’s what I’ll always remember and always be appreciative of is the fact they were willing to come down here and help this community at a time when we needed help.
“The games were great to play in. I didn’t enjoy getting drilled by 40-plus but as far as having an opportunity to play those teams here on your home court were experiences that Missouri Southern will never have again.”
“It was very emotional, especially with me going through it,” junior forward Jordan Talbert said. “It brought back a lot of memories from that, but it was definitely a good thing to have them come here and support us for that.”
Haith, after watching television coverage on the night of the tornado, got the ball rolling to bring his team to play in Joplin. The NCAA granted waivers to both Missouri and Missouri State to play the additional exhibition game.
“Looking back, a lot of emotion,” women’s coach Maryann Mitts said. “That night was a night that a university community an hour from here walked into this community and really embraced our tragedy. I was awestruck with the heart and soul of Missouri State and their coaching staff and players. It was one of the kindest gestures, just to have them come here and play us and have all the proceeds to the relief fund.
“It really put into perspective how basketball and how college athletics, especially at the Division II level but also at the mid-major level, can really make a difference in the lives of everyone – sports fans or not.”
“We played them very well and for a great cause,” senior forward Erin Rice said. “It was a very emotional night. Playing that game meant a lot to everyone in the community. It was just a great experience. I wish we could be able to do that again.”