By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Missouri Southern will have three new faces in the starting lineup tonight when the Lions tip off the 2013 portion of their schedule at home against Northwest Missouri State.
Erin Rice and Shatara Stone, the Lions’ two veterans, and freshman Sharese Jones have moved into the lineup along with center Shonte Clay and point guard Tee Singleton.
“Obviously Erin and Shatara have the experience of playing in the MIAA,” Lions coach Maryann Mitts said. “Their preparation has been quite a bit better. Both of their levels of play have improved, and their practices have been very good.
“Defensively it’s time to give Sharese an opportunity. She has played well in minimal minutes, and she has the body to play well in the MIAA.
“We needed to make changes. We lost energy in our starting lineup at the end of the first semester. We have to figure out how to play 40 minutes of good basketball.”
The Bearcats, who won only six games last season, are off to an 8-2 start under new coach Mark Kellogg. They’ve won their first two conference games at home 69-40 over Lindenwood and 67-56 over Nebraska-Kearney.
“It’s a little bit different,” Mitts said. “Gene (Steinmeyer, former Bearcats coach) did so many different things on defense. With this coach, it’s similar in that they will play a 2-3 matchup zone, they’ll play man, they’ll switch it up. We have to do a good job of recognizing their defenses quickly.
“I don’t think Northwest shoots the ball now as fast as they did in the past. They were a transition team that would shoot off the first or second pass. Now they are a more patient with a lot of screening action.”
Both teams feature balanced scoring attacks, although the Bearcats’ numbers are slightly higher. The Bearcats average 72.2 points a game, 20 more than their opponents, and the Lions average 66.6 points, six more than the opposition.
Shonte Clay paces the Lions at 9.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, and four more players — Rice, Dominique Mosley, Jolee Sharp and Stone — average between 7.6 and 8.1 points.
Northwest Missouri has four players averaging 10-12 points a game, led by Meridee Scott’s 11.7 points off the bench.
The Lions lost their conference opener 72-62 at Truman State on Dec. 8. They lost their last outing 72-53 at Harding one week later.
Despite the 0-1 league start, the Lions can gain ground with tonight’s game and Saturday night’s home game against Missouri Western (8-2, 1-1 MIAA entering tonight’s game at Central Oklahoma).
“Two teams we play only once this season, we need to defend the home court,” Mitts said. “We can balance things out in a short period of time if we take care of business this week.”