By Mark Schremmer
Globe Sports Writer
The Missouri Southern Lions women’s basketball team had the middle part down. It was just those pesky beginning and end parts that gave the Lions fits.
Missouri Southern trailed by 12 points at halftime and rallied to take a five-point lead with less than seven minutes to go. But the Lions were outscored 17-7 down the stretch in a 65-58 exhibition loss to Livin’ the Dream on Saturday afternoon at the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center.
“At the end of the half, we really started to make our comeback,” Missouri Southern coach Maryann Mitts said. “We just have to learn that we have to play a whole 40 minutes. We just didn’t. We had a big pocket in the middle where we played extremely well, but we didn’t start well and we didn’t finish well.”
It was a difficult start to the Lions’ exhibition season as they committed 19 turnovers in the first half and allowed several easy transition buckets.
“A lot of that was self inflicted,” Mitts said. “It wasn’t pressure oriented. It was just footwork issues. We have to tighten up our footwork ... those things are fixable."
The Lions’ biggest deficit was 15 points when former Emporia State standout guard Cassondra Boston knocked down a 3-pointer to give Livin’ the Dream a 33-18 lead at the 4:48 mark of the first half.
However, Missouri Southern held Livin’ the Dream scoreless for the rest of the half, cutting the lead to 33-21. The Lions built on that momentum in the second half, outscoring Livin’ the Dream 25-11 over the first 11 minutes. Missouri Southern took its first lead since the early minutes when Erin Rice hit an inside bucket to make it 46-44 with 8:26 left.
The Lions extended the lead to 51-46 after junior guard Johnna TenBerge hit a 3-pointer and then a pair of free throws with 6:45 remaining.
Livin’ the Dream’s Dayon Hall-Jones, a UMKC product, scored 11 of her game-high 23 points after that to help seal the win.
The early hole Missouri Southern created for itself played a big part.
“We just have to get off to a better start,” Mitts said. “We’re just trying different combinations with our players to see who will be good starters for us. But I just felt like we just eased into the game too much, especially defensively. We gave them way too many easy looks, and they hit those shots early on.”
Livin’ the Dream, a collection of former college players from the region, had three players join Hall-Jones in double figures — K.J. Waltrip (11), Boston (10) and Dena Williams (10).
Sophomore guard Nicole Hartzog led the Lions with 13 points.
Mitts said the Lions will use the loss as a learning tool for a team that includes 11 newcomers after finishing 8-18 last year. Missouri Southern knows it will need to make progress before Friday’s exhibition at San Francisco. The Lions will open the regular season on Nov. 9 at the Pitt State Tipoff Classic.
“It was a great next step for us,” Mitts said. “Meet the Lions was a baby step. One of the things that was evident today was that we’re not physical enough yet. We needed this. This is the best Livin’ the Dream team I’ve seen. They brought some nice quality players. That’s what we needed. We needed to not have a blowout today. We needed a tight ballgame where we had to execute and get stops. I think that was the next step before our exhibition in San Francisco.”