By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
It’s no different from previous seasons.
Rebounding will be a huge factor when Missouri Southern and Pittsburg State collide in a Sonic Trophy Series game tonight at the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center.
The Lions (8-5, 3-2 MIAA) and Gorillas (11-3, 4-2) have split their games during the last five seasons, and the winning team has also won the battle on the boards seven times. The exceptions were Missouri Southern victories in 2008, 2009 and 2011.
This season the Gorillas rank second in the conference in rebound margin (6.9 advantage) and first in offensive rebounds (14.1 per game). Missouri Southern has outrebounded its opponents by two per game.
“We’ve had moments where we haven’t been a very good rebounding team and moments when we have,” Lions coach Robert Corn said. “They outrebound their opponents by seven a game. Obviously it’s something we’re very concerned about.
“Any time Missouri Southern and Pittsburg State play, you know it’s going to be a physical game. We have to make sure we match their physicality. They are a very good rebounding team. They are going to play very strong defense and play extremely hard. It will be a tough battle.”
Pittsburg State forward JaVon McGee is fifth in the league at 7.3 rebounds per game and fourth in offensive boards (2.6). A.J. Adams adds almost six rebounds per game, one more than Marky Nolen and Rico Pierrevilus.
Missouri Southern junior forward Jordan Talbert leads the conference with 2.8 offensive rebounds per game. He averages 7.0 boards per game, and he’s third in the conference with 19 blocked shots.
“Their bigs do a great job of being active inside,” PSU coach Kevin Muff said. “They rebound outside their area. They chase down balls very well. They are hard to box out.
“Our guards’ ability to rebound will be big. Rebounding as been a key for us, but we have not won many rebounding battles since Christmas break. We’ll put more emphasis on that.”
The Gorillas outrebounded their first nine opponents, but they have been outrebounded in four of the last five games — each time by only three rebounds or less.
The Lions won 99-80 at Lincoln last Saturday as five players score in double figures for the third straight game, led by Austin Wright with 24 and Marquis Addison with 20. Addison’s 17.4 scoring average is third in the league, and he scored a career-best 33 points in last season’s 96-92 double-overtime home victory over the Gorillas..
“From an execution standpoint, offensively it probably was our best outing of the year (at Lincoln),” Corn said. “Not only did we shoot well, but the way we got shots. We moved the ball with quickness and not a lot of dribbling. We set good screens to create shots.”
“Missouri Southern probably right now is one of the best teams in my opinion in the conference in terms of running and executing their offense and having players understanding their roles,” Muff said. “They know where they want to get the ball and what they want to try to accomplish offensively.
“They are solid defensively. They’re playing very well right now and are a hot team. Defensively we will have to bear down and guard them.”
Freshman guard Kaleb Porter leads the Gorillas at 15.4 points per game, and he is the league’s top free-throw shooter at 88.9 percent (64-of-72). His biggest game this season came on the MSSU court — 34 points in an 86-78 victory over Lincoln in the Freeman Sports Medicine/Chris Tucker Memorial Classic last November.
Guard Courtney Ingram and forward McGee, both seniors, average 12.0 and 11.1 points, respectively. Ingram has scored in double figures in 10 of the last 11 games, and McGee is averaging 14.9 points in the last six games.
The Gorillas are coming off an 80-73 loss Saturday afternoon at Central Missouri.
“We’re not playing terrible,” Muff said. “We peaked right before Christmas break, and since the break we have not had the type of play we had earlier in the year. Obviously teams are keying on key players for us. We need guys to step up, and I think our bench play needs to be a little stronger. Our rotation will change due to the injury to Jake Bullard.”
Bullard, a freshman from Vinita, Okla., suffered a broken hand in the Gorillas’ 85-63 victory at Lincoln last Thursday and will be out 4-6 weeks, Muff said.