By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Jermaine Bransford, Northeastern State’s double-double machine, clicked on all cylinders Saturday afternoon.
Bransford, 6-foot-7, 225-pound senior, worked the inside for 20 points and grabbed 17 rebounds to lead the RiverHawks past Missouri Southern 73-54 at the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center.
Bransford hit 10-of-16 field goals for his 20 points, and a dozen of his rebounds came off the defensive glass. Averaging 15.4 points and 9.6 rebounds for the season, Bransford has posted double-doubles in nine of the last 12 games.
“He’s definitely athletic,” Lions center Jordan Talbert said, “but I take pride in my defense and being able to guard good people. I didn’t do a good job of getting stops when I was supposed to. I take that on me as a leader.”
“We knew he was going to be a concern of ours,” Lions coach Robert Corn said. “We didn’t have anybody to match up with him from a physical standpoint, and the same thing with the big kid at Emporia, we didn’t have anybody to match up with him.”
Forward Marcus Sheppard, who hit 4-of-5 3-point shots, and guard Bryton Hobbs added 12 points apiece for Northeastern State, and forward Landon DeMasters had 10 points. The RiverHawks (14-4, 7-3 MIAA) moved past Northwest Missouri State into second place in the league standings after the Bearcats lost at league-leading Central Missouri 60-50.
Talbert, 6-5 junior, also recorded a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds. He was 7-of-14 from the floor and 4-of-6 at the line, and he had 12 points after halftime.
Cameron Cornelius scored 14 points, including 8-of-10 free throws, in 23 minutes off the bench for the Lions (9-8, 4-5). Junior guard Marquis Addison was 2-of-12 from the floor and had nine points, half his season average.
The RiverHawks owned a big shooting advantage, hitting 28-of-56 from the floor and 7-of-20 from 3-point range. The Lions were 16-of-52, including 1-of-12 from beyond the arc.
“On our offense we knew we shouldn’t have a lot of turnovers, which we didn’t (9), because they are going to play back and make it tough on you to score inside,” Corn said. “The disappointing thing is when we did get the ball on the inside, we weren’t strong enough to get to the basket. Then we weren’t able to make jump shots, and that just compounds things. When you’re not able to make jump shots, they will pack it in a little bit tighter each and every time.”
The Lions fell behind 15-5 in the first nine minutes before a one-handed dunk by Talbert off a pass from Morgan Smith, a free throw by R.J. Leverette, and four Addison charities sandwiched around a Cornelius jumper sliced the deficit to 17-14 with 7:49 left in the half.
Neither team scored for more than two minutes before the RiverHawks outscored the Lions 14-7 in the final 5:30 to lead 31-21 at the half. Bransford had two baskets in the run, and reserve Christian Mack and Sheppard hit 3s.
“We knew what they were going to do,” Talbert said. “They have a tough offense to guard, but we just didn’t come out with any energy and put any effort to do it. We knew that they were going to set a lot of screens, and when you play a team like that, it comes down to heart and making stops.”
Hobbs hit a baseline jumper and two free throws and Sheppard hit another 3 as NSU pushed its lead to 40-24 in the first three minutes of the second half, and the Lions never got closer than 11 the rest of the way.
“They are a good basketball team,” Corn said. “We knew coming in that they were shooting the basketball well from all three spots — overall, from the 3 and free throws. We knew they were going to be a challenge for us defensively because they do a great job of execution, and they understand their roles. They have two guys who have taken over half of their shots, and everybody else takes advantage of opportunities when they get them.”
The Lions are idle until road games on Thursday night at Washburn and Saturday afternoon at Fort Hays State.