By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. —
Guard Bryton Hobbs capped a 23-point performance with five points in the final minute as Northeastern State edged Missouri Southern 77-73 Wednesday night in an MIAA thriller at cozy Jack Dobbins Fieldhouse.
A seesaw second half included six lead changes during a six-minute stretch, and the outcome wasn’t decided until Hobbs’ sank two free throws with one second left to produce the final margin.
A quick eight-point burst gave the Lions a 66-63 advantage with six minutes left as Stephen Atkinson hit a jumper, Jordan Talbert dunked an offensive rebound, Marquis Addison made a jumper just inside the arc and Cameron Cornelius made a reverse layup off a pass from R.J. Leverette.
But Jermaine Bransford, who sat eight minutes with three fouls earlier in the second half, scored on a dunk off a lob pass from Hobbs and then spun in the lane for another bucket to put the RiverHawks up 67-66.
Bransford scored two more times to offset two Cornelius free throws and a Talbert 15-footer, leaving the RiverHawks up 71-70 with 2:00 left.
On the Lions’ next two possessions, Matt Everson’s 3-pointer from the left corner rimmed out, and Atkinson’s 15-footer, after faking a 3, hit off the rim.
“When Matt’s shot left his hand, I thought it was in,” Lions coach Robert Corn said. “I thought Stephen’s 15-footer was in, and Stephen had been shooting the ball really well the second half. Both of them were great looks. The ball just didn’t find the bottom of the net for us.”
Hobbs drove for a layup — with one second on the shot clock — for a 73-70 lead with 53 seconds left. He was fouled on the play but missed the free throw. However, NSU’s John Schneider got the rebound, was fouled and made one charity for a four-point lead with 27 seconds left.
Talbert’s tipin cut the lead to two with 12 seconds left, but Hobbs made one free throw for a three-point lead with five seconds to play.
The Lions got the ball to Addison, and he was fouled at midcourt before he could get any attempt at a shot. He made the front end of the 1-and-1, intentionally missed the second one, and the RiverHawks got the 50-50 rebound as the ball bounced high off the heel of the rim, setting up Hobbs' last two free throws.
“We made some key mental errors down the stretch,” Talbert said. “We gave up an offensive board off a rebound that hurt us. I gave up an ‘and-1’ when the game was close. We gave a good effort though.”
“It was a tough one,” Atkinson said. “They made a basket, we would come down and hit a basket. We just couldn’t get that one last stop and one last shot to fall for us to get the win.”
“We definitely played a lot better the second time we played them than we did the first time (a 73-54 home loss on Jan. 26),” Talbert said. “We proved that we’ve gotten better over that period of time. They are a very good team, but we competed, and we know we’re only getting better.”
“I totally expected this kind of game,” NSU coach Larry Gipson said. “I told Coach Corn after the game that I’ve never seen a team improve as much as they have since we played them last. I think Missouri Southern is a formidable group. I think they are going to cause some damage. … I’m glad we’re finished playing them. This was a great college basketball game.”
Talbert scored 21 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked two shots in 36 minutes to lead the Lions (11-11, 6-8 MIAA).
Addison was next with 18 points. Atkinson hit three of the Lions’ eight treys while scoring 15, and Cornelius finished with 11.
Hobbs had 13 of his 23 points in the second half, followed by Ethan Anderson with 14 — seven straight in a one-minute stretch midway through the second half — Bransford with 13 and Schneider with 11.
“There were a couple of times when we were bending in the second half when they got a seven- or eight-point lead, but we fought back every time,” Corn said. “That’s a sign of a team maturing and knowing what it takes to compete in this league.”
The Lions are back at home Saturday night against Emporia State.