By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
The first thing Missouri Southern wants today against Nebraska-Kearney is a better start.
In their last two games, Missouri Southern trailed Lincoln 12-2 after almost eight minutes and Pittsburg State 21-8 midway through the first half.
“We need to get off to a better start,” Lions coach Maryann Mitts said. “Our first 8 to 10 minutes need to be so much more productive than it’s been before.”
The Lions and Lopers collide at 1 p.m. today at the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center. It’s the annual “Cancer Awareness Game,” and the Lions will wear pink jerseys that will be available in auctions.
The Lions battled back to win at Lincoln 67-55, but they lost 66-63 to the Gorillas.
“All the mistakes we made ... we need to find Missouri Southern basketball again,” senior forward Erin Rice said. “We did not play Missouri Southern basketball.
“We fought back, but it wasn’t good enough. We didn’t run our plays right. Coach called the plays that needed to be called, but we didn’t execute them in their entirety.”
The Lions (10-4, 4-2 MIAA) are seventh in the league behind six five-win teams. Four of them go head-to-head today as league-leading Washburn visits Northeastern State and Central Missouri travels to Truman State.
Nebraska-Kearney (4-10, 1-6), lost 68-63 at home to Central Missouri on Wednesday night. The Lopers were strong on the boards as 25 offensive rebounds led to 24 second-chance points.
That’s not good news for Missouri Southern, which was outrebounded 35-24 by Pittsburg State.
“We were not very competitive on the boards,” Mitts said. “Any offensive shot that we took, we could not get a second or third attempt, and that kind of deflated us. On the reverse, they got some key offensive rebounds and did a great job of running down the shot clock when they needed to.
“Kearney is going to push the ball up the floor. There were segments of the Pitt game that we lost somebody in transition and they were able to get off a 3. Kearney will spread us out in the halfcourt and run a multitude of sets. We’re expecting different things defensively. It won’t be your typical halfcourt man. They mix up their defenses a lot.”
The former Central States Intercollegiate Conference foes played early last season in Kearney, and the Lions prevailed 76-66. Rice scored 18 points for the Lions and made three of their nine treys.
“We made the trip to Kearney last year because we knew they were coming in the league,” Mitts said. “It helps a little bit to know their personnel and their system.”
According to early returns, the Lions have not shown a hangover from the Pittsburg State loss.
“Thursday’s practice was the best practice of the year,” Mitts said. “It had a lot of emotion, a lot of intensity. From top to bottom, I was pleased with the way the players came in and bounced back.
“I wish we would have had that energy Wednesday night, but I was pleased with how they responded. It’s always a concern after a loss — do tshey dread coming to practice or do they decide to get better and move forward to the next game.”