By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Missouri Southern’s preparation for today’s game at Central Oklahoma should be easy since the Lions beat the Bronchos 68-66 just five days ago in the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center.
Motivation also shouldn’t be an issue as the Lions can secure a home game for next week’s MIAA postseason tournament play-in game by beating the Bronchos.
But there is one legitimate concern for the Lions. They must guard against a letdown after Wednesday night’s 62-57 victory at Pittsburg State.
“That’s the message when we got back to Joplin,” Lions coach Maryann Mitts said. “This (victory over PSU) is great, and now we have to make sure that we understand we’re right where we need to be. How exciting to play your last regular-season game and have something so meaningful going into it.
“We’re not under any pressure, but we’re under a benefit. What a benefit it would be to win and be able to host next Tuesday.”
Senior Erin Rice believes the Lions will be ready to play.
“We’re having a fun ride now,” she said. “UCO is a tough place to play, I’ve heard, but we hope to get them on the road to top it all off.”
The Lions (13-12, 7-10 MIAA) share eighth place with Northwest Missouri State and Missouri Western, and the Lions beat those two teams in early January. The Lions also beat Southwest Baptist and Lincoln, both tied at 6-11 in the league.
Central Oklahoma (9-16, 2-15) is wrapping up its first year in the MIAA. The Bronchos lost Wednesday night 64-58 at Northeastern State.
Samantha Soyez’s two free throws with 22 seconds left gave the Lions their two-point victory over Central Oklahoma. Rice’s 15 points topped a balanced scoring attack, followed by Dominique Mosley (12), Sharese Jones (11), Shonte Clay (10), Nicole Hartzog (9) and Soyez (7 plus nine assists).
Mosley and Clay had 12 and 11 points, respectively, at Pittsburg State. Before this week, the Chicago duo both reached double figures in the same game only once – Nov. 23, 2012, against Avila when they each had 12.
The Lions played one of their best defensive games of the season at Pittsburg State, holding the Gorillas 12 points below their season scoring average. And in a change from a conference season that has included five games decided by five points or less and seven more decided by six to nine points, this time the Lions played much of the second half with the lead.
The Lions, after trailing 32-27 three minutes into the second half, maintained the lead for the last 10 minutes. Pittsburg State climbed within three points nine times, but the Lions answered by hitting a key basket or converting 7-of-8 free throws during the last 34 seconds.
The Lions’ biggest lead of the second half was 52-47 with 3:20 left after Rice grabbed a defensive rebound, dribbled up the right side of the floor and hit a 10-foot pull-up jumper. On the opposite side of the court, Mitts had both arms extended, wanting the Lions to slow it down and work time off the clock.
“I just wanted to make sure that we would get a good shot,” Mitts said. “That’s what great players do, and as a senior Erin has that freedom to make that decision. Of course, the ball went in, and I’m excited about the outcome. … And it was her best shot. She loves that shot, and she did a great job of hitting it.”