By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Missouri Southern and Emporia State, both coming off disappointing losses on Saturday to end the regular season, collide tonight in an MIAA Postseason Tournament play-in game at White Auditorium in Emporia, Kan.
The Lions led most of the first 16 minutes but trailed the entire 24 minutes while losing 76-65 at Central Oklahoma. Both teams shot below 40 percent — 38 percent for the Lions, 35 percent for the Bronchos, but UCO made 15 more free throws and had advantages of 30-20 on points in the paint and 23-17 in points off turnovers. The Lions made 21 turnovers to the Bronchos’ 12.
Junior guard Matt Everson, who scored a career-high 17 points for the Lions at UCO, believes the quick turnaround won’t cause any problems for the Lions.
“If you’re a basketball player, you’d love to play as many games as you can play,” he said. “I’m excited, whoever we play.”
Emporia State’s season — much like Missouri Southern’s campaign — has been marked with inconsistent play. The Hornets followed a season highlight — 61-55 victory over rival Washburn last Thursday on the night that Ron Slaymaker Court was unveiled — with an 82-55 setback Saturday afternoon at Pittsburg State.
“They’ve had some games where you shook your head a little bit and wondered how they got beat that bad,” Lions coach Robert Corn said. “They’ve shown some signs of inconsistency as well, but I’m sure after getting beat like that in the last regular-season game, they’ll be hungry to get a win in the conference tournament.”
Guard Kaleb Wright leads the Hornets at 14.5 points per game, and he tallied 19 and 23 points in ESU’s two victories over the Lions this season.
Paul Bunch, 6-foot-11 senior, averages 12.3 points and 8.0 rebounds. Like Wright, Bunch exceeded his averages twice against the Lions – 18 points and nine rebounds at home, 16 and 12 on the road. Guard Chris Sights averages 11.5 points, and he totaled 23 points in two games against the Lions.
“There’s no doubt Bunch presents a lot of matchup problems for us,” Corn said. “His size can change some things for us on offense. Wright has really hurt us both times, too, and Sights is an awfully good player.
“They have three really good players, and they have some really good support players, too. They are a good basketball team. They are a team that is certainly capable of winning this tournament if they get on a roll. We have a challenge ahead of us, but by the same token, if we’re good enough to go there and beat them, we can make some noise, too.”
In the 76-62 loss at Emporia State, Lions guard R.J. Leverette made 6-of-7 3-point shots and scored 22 points, and Marquis Addison had 16 points.
The Lions lost 69-66 at home after leading the Hornets by as many as 15 points in the first half. Center Greg Renfroe and guard Austin Wright scored 10 points apiece off the bench and were the only Lions in double figures.
The Lions certainly know that a season sweep carries zero weight in the postseason tournament. The past two years they beat Fort Hays State twice during the season, only to lose to the Tigers in the postseason meet.