By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
TOPEKA, Kan. —
Washburn guard Will McNeill, the MIAA’s No. 2 scorer at 18.9 points per game, had 10 points, matching his season low.
But Kyle Wiggins rose to the occasion and popped in a career-high 21 points as the No. 21 Ichabods held off Missouri Southern 62-57 on Wednesday night at Lee Arena.
Wiggins, 6-foot-2 sophomore guard, hit 9-of-12 field goals and 3-of-5 3-point attempts for his 21 points, four more than his previous best and 14 above his season average. He scored 17 points and missed only one shot in the second half, including a layup with 7:18 left and a trey from the wing on the next trip to extend two-point leads.
Down 54-50, the Lions had two chances to cut the deficit but turned the ball over both times. The second turnover led to Wiggins’ layup for a 56-50 lead with 1:15 left.
Cameron Cornelius made the back end of a two-shot foul to pull Missouri Southern within five points with 1:02 to play, but appropriately, Wiggins’ 3-pointer from the left corner gave Washburn a 59-51 lead with 30 seconds left.
Cornelius hit two 3s in the last 19 seconds, the second one off the backboard from the left wing to pull the Lions within 60-57 with seven seconds left. But McNeill sank two clinching free throws with five seconds left for the final margin, and giving him double-digit scoring for all 50 games during the last two seasons.
“He’s such a physical player, I thought our guys did a nice job of matching his physicality for the most part,” Lions coach Robert Corn said. “And we kept him off the offensive glass. He only got one offensive rebound. But he did what all great players do. He wasn’t scoring himself, but he had seven assists. That just tells you what kind of player he is.”
Marquis Addison led Missouri Southern (9-9, 4-6 MIAA) with 14 points, going 4-of-13 from the floor and 5-of-7 at the line. Cornelius, with seven points in the last 62 seconds, finished with 11, and Jordan Talbert scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
Martin Mitchell added 11 points for the Ichabods (13-4, 6-3), who shot 41 percent (23-of-56) to the Lions’ 35 percent (17-of-48). Talbert’s seven rebounds led the Lions to a 37-28 advantage on the boards, but Missouri Southern committed 24 turnovers, 11 more than Washburn.
The Lions fell behind 11-0 in the first six minutes and struggled to get off a good look for most of the first half, shooting only 35 percent (7-of-20) and committing 16 turnovers. But the Lions outscored the Ichabods 13-5 in the last seven minutes of the half to trail just 25-23 at the intermission.
“Once we turned it around, we started looking pretty good,” said Addison, who had eight points during the Lions’ late spree. “We showed some heart and showed some life. But all credit to Washburn. They played a great game and had a great game plan coming in.”
“We came out and played the first five, six, seven minutes the way we’ve played the last three games,” Corn said. “Washburn came out and put hard pressure on us, and we weren’t strong with the ball at all. They trapped us a few times, and we had turnovers out on the floor, and they were able to get some breaks out of it. Fortunately our halfcourt defense wasn’t bad. It’s just that our offense was so pathetic, we couldn’t get anything going on the offensive end.
“The encouraging thing is finally this team for the last 30 minutes showed some life and showed some heart that leads you to believe they want to keep playing. We had some opportunities. We just didn’t take very good care of the ball.”
The Lions didn’t start the second half much better, missing nine of their first 10 shots, and Washburn opened a 43-32 lead with 9:25 left. But again the Lions battled back with a 3 by R.J. Leverette, layin by Stephen Atkinson, 12-footer by Leverette and two Addison free throws to slice the deficit to 43-41 with 7:29 to play.
“We were really excited to be down only two at halftime,” Corn said. “The thing we stressed at halftime was we can’t let the game get away from us in the first five minutes of the second half, but they ballooned it up to 10 pretty quick. … Then to our guys’ credit, they could have folded the tent and we could have gotten beat by 20, but we kept battling and we made some plays when we had to. We had two possessions when we were down 4, and we turned it over. Those are the ones that just kill you.”