By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
EMPORIA, Kan. —
Emporia State broke away in the opening minutes of each half and decked Missouri Southern 76-62 Wednesday night in an MIAA men’s basketball game at White Auditorium.
Guard Kaleb Wright and center Paul Bunch, the Hornets’ Chicago connection, combined for 37 points as Emporia State (8-7, 3-4 MIAA) beat the Lions for the first time in three seasons. Wright, 6-foot-4 junior, netted 19 points — 10 in the second half — and Bunch, 6-11 junior, scored 18 — 10 in the first half. Bunch and Tre Boutilier grabbed nine rebounds each as the Hornets owned a 37-27 margin on the boards.
Lions sophomore point guard R.J. Leverette popped in 22 points on a near-perfect shooting game. Leverette, 6-0 senior from Kansas City, Mo., did not miss a shot until his final attempt was blocked, finishing 8-of-9 from the floor and 6-of-7 from 3-point range. His previous high this season was 10 points against Lincoln.
“It’s a pretty good feeling to actually make some shots,” said Leverette, who was hitting 28 percent from the floor and 22 percent from long range for the season. “I’ve been concentrating a lot lately on getting extra shots up because I’ve been struggling from the field so far this year, and I know it’s been hurting my team. It felt good to finally get that off my chest.”
“R.J. played great,” Lions coach Robert Corn said. “You can’t ask him to have better production than he did. That was definitely a positive for us because he’s struggled so much shooting the basketball. Hopefully this will give him a bounce in his step and it will snowball him into shooting the ball the rest of the way.”
Marquis Addison scored 16 points for the Lions (9-7, 4-4), including 12 in the second half. Half of his points came from the foul line. The Lions shot 44 percent (22-of-50) overall, 35 percent (8-of-23) in the second half. The Lions hit 14-of-27 shots in the first half but only 8-of-19 by players other than Leverette.
“We never got into any type of flow,” Corn said. “I was surprised they were able to play us man in the second half. They played us zone the first half, then man the second half. Our man offense, we dribbled way too much. There was no cutting, no passing the ball with crispness. It was a lot of dribbling, and when you do that, your offense is stagnant.”
The Hornets jumped out to an 8-2 lead in the first two minutes, but thanks to Leverette’s perfect marksmanship, the Lions trailed just 36-34 at halftime.
Leverette was 6-of-6 overall and 4-of-4 from long range for 16 points in the first half. He hit a jumper in the lane and two treys — one from each wing — as the Lions outscored the Hornets 12-5 in the last six minutes to pull within two points at the break.
But Bunch scored on a putback, Chris Sights hit a long 3 and a layup and Terrence Moore hit a trey from the wing as the Hornets expanded their lead to 46-34 four minutes into the second half. Sights also finished in double figures with 12 points.
Leverette hit a trey from the top of the key to end the Lions’ dry spell, but the Lions never got closer than nine points the rest of the way.
“They came out in the first five minutes of both halves and hurt us a lot,” Leverette said. “My father used to always tell me that the better team always wins the first five minutes of the second half.”
“If you look at the first media timeout, it was 10-2 on second-chance points already,” Corn said. “That kind of set the tempo for how the game was going to be played. We fought back and got within two at halftime and had the basketball first possession of the second half. You hope you can score there and tie it up and get some momentum, and we just left it in the locker room. We did not come out with any type of toughness or energy that you have to have.”
The Hornets shot 48 percent overall and 53 percent on 3-pointers, going 10-of-19 with three apiece by Wright and Taylor Euler.
“They worked the clock down and did a nice job of clock management,” Corn said. “And it seemed like every time they ran it down, they’d hit a 3. And the big guy (Bunch) hurt us on the inside. We knew he was a load on the inside.”
The Lions continue league play at home Saturday afternoon against Northeastern State.