By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Nebraska-Kearney seldom missed a shot during the first half, and Missouri Southern never recovered.
The Lopers, effective on the inside and from long range, blistered the nets at a 75 percent clip in the first half en route to a 74-66 victory over Missouri Southern on Saturday afternoon at the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center.
The Lopers (5-11, 2-6 MIAA), making their first appearance in Joplin since 1989, hit 11 of their first 13 shots to build a 26-10 lead. They finished the half 18-of-24 and led 42-30 at the intermission.
“A lot of times they were open shots,” the Lions’ Jordan Talbert said. “When we did execute on defense and got a hand up, they still made shots. That’s hard really to come back from. A lot of times the post got us one-on-one, made the moves and hit the shot.”
“We didn’t come out with the energy necessary,” Lions coach Robert Corn said. “Early in the game they outran us on a fast-break opportunity where we didn’t compete to get back. That’s never a good sign. That kind of set the tempo for the whole first half.
“When they score some easy baskets, that allows them to get some confidence and get comfortable. And we allowed them to get way too comfortable, and give them credit. They came in here and played with the toughness and did the things right you have to do to be successful on the road.”
The last five seconds of the first half summarized Missouri Southern’s day.
The Lions (9-6, 4-3), after cutting the 18-point deficit in half during the last four minutes, had one final possession after the Lopers’ fifth turnover in six possessions. But the Lopers intercepted the inbounds pass, and Pierre Newton’s trey on the run made it a 12-point lead.
“We shot better than we normally do, and that gave us a chance to win the game,” Lopers co-coach Tom Kropp said. “The last shot of the half where the guy tried a desperation 3, we were fortunate. They have a very good team. We’re not having a great year, so to get a win for us meant a lot.”
The Lopers shooting dropped to 27 percent (8-of-30) in the second half, but the Lions never got closer than eight points.
“We had two or three times in the second half when we had a chance to cut into it, and we couldn’t make the big basket,” Corn said. “We were down eight one time and had a wide-open look at the 3 and couldn’t knock it down. If you can get within five, then all of a sudden you have a little momentum. It seemed like every time we could do that, we couldn’t make the big basket.”
The Lions shot 40 percent (22-of-55) against the Lopers’ zone.
“We had a lot of open looks but we just couldn’t hit a thing,” Talbert said. “You saw against Missouri Western, they zoned us and we hit shots (in a 95-69 victory two weeks ago). We missed shots today, and they collapsed on us inside.”
Talbert was a bright spot for the Lions, collecting 18 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots in 34 minutes. He was 6-of-9 from the floor, 5-of-8 at the foul line, and half of his rebounds came off the offensive glass.
“I wanted to come out aggressive,” Talbert said. “I knew with them running a zone, the offensive boards would be there. I felt like I missed a lot of free throws. I just wanted to come out and be physical and give our team some time of energy.”
“I thought Jordan played his tail off,” Corn said. “He competed hard. He was about the only one who was getting defensive boards for us in a stretch. There is no doubt Jordan’s will to win was there today, and he did everything he could to make it happen.”
Marquis Addison scored 17 for the Lions, going 5-of-14 from the floor and 6-of-7 at the line.
Newton fired in 24 points — doubling his season average — for the Lopers. Tyler Shields hit four treys while scoring 18 points, and he grabbed 12 rebounds as UNK held a 37-33 advantage on the boards.