By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. —
Missouri Southern’s start was slow to say the least, and the Lions turned the ball over five times in six possessions with just less than six minutes left.
But sparked by Nicole Hartzog’s instant offense, the Lions controlled the middle 25 minutes and downed Lincoln 67-55 Saturday afternoon at Jason Gymnasium.
Center Shonte Clay netted a season-high 17 points and Hartzog and Erin Rice contributed 12 apiece as the Lions (10-3, 4-1 MIAA) posted their fourth straight victory and second in a row on the road. They return home to face Pittsburg State on Wednesday night in a Sonic Trophy Series game.
Missouri Southern hit 65 percent from the field (13-of-20) while outscoring the Blue Tigers 37-27 in the second half. Lincoln (7-7, 2-4) shot 30 percent (10-of-33) in the second half and 35 percent (22-of-63) for the game.
The Lions finished at 47 percent (25-of-53), which was quite an improvement after a miserable start.
The Lions missed eight shots, committed two turnovers and faced an 8-0 deficit before Dominique Mosley hit a 15-footer from the left side after almost 5 1/2 minutes. The Lions had three more misses and four more turnovers during the next two minutes and trailed 12-2.
Hartzog, averaging 3.8 points for the season, then entered and produced seven points in a 61-second span — a basket after an offensive rebound, a layup off the break and a drive for a layup and three-point play.
“We got stops on defense and lots of help from my teammates like Tee (Singleton) getting those steals,” Hartzog said. “That’s how I could get all those points in a short spurt.”
Hartzog, who made four field goals, one 3 and three free throws during a perfect-shooting game, played the second half with a bandage covering a cut under her right eye suffered when she bumped heads late in first half.
“I’m used to it,” she said. “This is the fifth time it’s happened on the same side of my face — the exact same spot.”
“That was the lift we needed off the bench,” Lions coach Maryann Mitts said. “We couldn’t get anything going. That substitution was huge. She was doing a great job of getting to the basket, and I think once she did that on a few occasions, everybody else relaxed. That ignited our engine, and we got comfortable in what we were trying to do.”
After collectively breathing their sigh of relief, the Lions tied the game on Rice’s 3-pointer from the top of key, and baskets by Clay and Sharese Jones gave the Lions their first lead, 18-14, with 7:00 left in the first half. The Lions led 30-28 at the intermission behind nine points from Clay, eight from Rice and seven from Hartzog.
After three lead changes to start the second half, Jolee Sharp’s trey and midrange jumper put the Lions ahead to stay, 38-35 with 15:30 left. Hartzog made two free throws and a 3, and Mosley had two baskets as the Lions widened their lead to 51-42. Moments later, the Lions scored on four straight trips — Rice’s short jumper along the left baseline, Jones’ drive down the lane to beat the shot clock, Clay’s shot in the lane and Sharp’s jumper in the lane —to open a 59-44 lead with 7:01 to go.
“We were able to slow the ball down offensively and get some reversals,” Mitts said. “We thought the screening action in our offense would hurt them, and it did. We were able to get the ball inside, and when they did take that away with a double team, we were able to get the 3 at the top. This was one of our better games with our offensive execution. Our coachability was good, and the adjustments our players made throughout the game were very good.”
Clay hit 8-of-13 shots while scoring 17 points, four more than her former high this season.
“She’s much more explosive offensively,” Mitts said. “She’s getting off the floor better. Our rebounding in the second half was exceptional. That five-minute spurt with Erin Rice and Shonte on the floor at the same time, we were able to get to the rim and grab rebounds. That’s when we made our run.”
Clay and Mosley snagged eight rebounds apiece and Sharp had six as the Lions outrebounded the Blue Tigers 42-37. Led by Hartzog and Mosley, the Lion reserves contributed 24 points and 16 rebounds.
“What makes us a pretty good basketball team right now is we do have so much depth,” Mitts said. “When someone is not playing well or struggling, we’re able to go three deep at any spot, and we can just kind of play it out longer to see who’s capable of playing on a given night.
Guard Freddie Sims topped Lincoln with 17 points. Arriana Walker was held to 3-of-15 shooting from the field and nine points — five below her team-leading average.