By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Guard Nicole Hartzog, who provided a spark off the bench in two of the previous three games, makes her first Missouri Southern start tonight when the Lions visit Emporia State.
“Nicole has given us a spark off the bench, and we need that spark at the beginning,” Lions coach Maryann Mitts said. “We’re really trying to plug those holes in our starting lineup and see who’s capable of starting right away. We’re giving Nicole her shot.”
Hartzog, 5-foot-7 sophomore from Beaverton, Ore., scored 12 points on a perfect shooting game — one trey among four field goals plus three free throws — at Lincoln on Jan. 12. She had a team-high 11 points — all in the first half — in last Saturday’s 67-60 overtime loss to Nebraska-Kearney.
Hartzog averages 5.1 points per game, shooting 46 percent from the floor and 88 percent (21-of-24) from the foul line.
The Lions (10-5, 4-3 MIAA) are tied for seventh place after suffering their first two home losses of the season last week — by three points to Pittsburg State before the overtime setback against UNK.
Emporia State (8-6, 3-3) is one-half game behind the Lions. The Hornets won Sunday afternoon 62-55 over Missouri Western to remain undefeated at home (5-0) this season.
“They are a much better basketball team in White Auditorium,” Mitts said. “They always are. We have to make sure we minimize their runs.
“Their system is pretty much the same. They don’t have the depth in the post they’ve had in the past, and they don’t run as much in transition. They now are more of a halfcourt team than they’ve been in the past.”
Laura Patrick, 5-10 junior guard, averages 15.2 points to lead the Hornets, and 5-9 senior Rachel Hanf and 6-3 sophomore Merissa Quick add 10 points apiece.
Erin Rice, 6-2 senior forward, averages 9.7 points to lead the Lions’ balanced attack. The Lions, however, are coming off a season-low 28 percent shooting game against UNK.
“Obviously we have to shoot the ball better,” Mitts said. “Normally I would say defense is the main key — and it’s always key — but weighing a little more heavy is are we going to be able to score, coming off our performance in the last game.”
The Lions are looking to snap a 19-game losing streak in White Auditorium, one of the MIAA’s best venues.
“It’s an amazing environment,” Mitts said, “from the amount of fans who are heavily engaged in the game to the student section, which is right on the floor, to the band. It’s an intimate setting in an historic building. It’s one of the best atmospheres in Division II basketball, I believe.”