By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Missouri Southern’s improved play in recent games took a step back during last Saturday’s 69-66 home loss to Emporia State.
“This one is one that should have never gotten away,” Lions coach Robert Corn said. “If you come out and really compete and play hard and you’re not the better team that night, you deal with those. This one here is one that will definitely come back and haunt us the rest of the season.”
The Lions owned a 15-point lead late in the first half and a 12-point advantage three minutes into the second half before the Hornets rallied with a 13-0 spurt and set the stage for a seesaw battle the final 15 minutes.
Free throws, more specifically, the lack of trips to the foul line, also contributed to the Lions’ second-half demise. The Lions sank 14-of-19 free throws in the first half, but they were only 3-of-4 in the last 20 minutes.
“You see that so many times,” Corn said. “You’ll get a lot of free throw attempts one half, and for whatever reason you don’t get many in the second half.
“They played a lot more zone the second half, and we didn’t do a very good job of going through the seams, finding the gaps. We dribbled too much out on the perimeter and didn’t do a good job of attacking. Then whenever we did get the ball inside, we went to the basket strong, but we just didn’t get the call.”
“We settled for jump shots more in the second half rather than taking it to the rim and getting the ‘and-1s’ like we did in the first half,” Lions center Greg Renfroe said.
Renfroe, 6-foot-8, 220-pound redshirt freshman, scored 10 points, playing additional minutes in the post while Jordan Talbert sat with foul trouble. Renfroe, who was 4-of-7 from the floor and 2-of-3 at the foul line in 17 minutes, notched his fifth double-figure game of the season and second in league play, matching his 10 points against Missouri Western on Jan. 5.
Renfroe averaged 17.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks as a senior two years ago at Nowata (Okla.) High School. His redshirt season last year with the Lions was both educational and beneficial as he got to practice against MIAA player of the year Keane Thomann every day in practice.
“It helped a lot,” Renfroe said. “Going against one of the top players in the country — 6-11, 280 pounds. I learned a lot from him. He helped me with my hook shot and everything inside.”
The loss to Emporia State also hurt the Lions’ chances of hosting a postseason tournament play-in game on March 4. The top four league finishers qualify for quarterfinal spots in the tournament, and seeds 5 through 8 play host to seeds 9 through 12 in play-in games to determine the other four teams going to Kansas City.
“We were in good shape as far as hosting the first-round game,” Corn said. “Now we’re struggling No. 1, to get in, and now we have to do some good things these last three games to have a chance to host.”
The Lions (11-12, 6-9 MIAA) have three games left, and their final home appearance is tonight against Central Oklahoma.
Since the Bronchos (11-11, 9-5) did not play last weekend, their last game also was against Emporia State. Central Oklahoma beat the Hornets 83-69 for its fourth consecutive victory. UCO and Washburn are tied for third in the standings, two games behind Fort Hays State and Central Missouri.
“They are coming in playing with confidence,” Corn said. “They are a very explosive team. They shoot a lot of 3s … 45 percent of their shots are 3s. They like to spread the floor and take you off penetration and get to the basket, or they will kick it out and shoot the 3. Their perimeter guys are big-bodied guys, and they will post up if they feel they have an advantage.”
Josh Gibbs, 6-5 junior forward, leads the Bronchos at 17.5 points per game for the season. He’s averaging 19.6 in league games.
The Lions have one lineup change. Sophomore Stephen Atkinson will start in place of freshman Blaine Miller, who missed two practices this week with the flu.