By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
EDMOND, Okla. —
For Missouri Southern, it’s not how you start the second half but how you finish it.
The Lions, after scoring just one point in the first eight minutes of the second half, outscored Central Oklahoma 11-2 in the closing 4:35 and edged the Bronchos 63-59 Saturday afternoon at Hamilton Field House.
The Lions (14-12, 8-10 MIAA) posted their third victory of the week and claimed the No. 8 seed in next week’s MIAA Postseason Tournament. The Lions have a play-in game at home on Tuesday night against Northwest Missouri State, which beat Truman State 72-65.
Senior Erin Rice, after sitting the final 11 minutes of the first half with two fouls, tallied 11 second-half points and finished with 18 to pace the Lions. Guard Nicole Hartzog scored 10 points and grabbed nine rebounds, and center Shonte Clay had nine points and eight rebounds.
Missouri Southern, after shooting 52 percent in the first half, missed its first 12 attempts in the second half and saw a 38-36 halftime lead become a 46-39 deficit with 12 minutes remaining. The Lions then scored their first field goals of the second half on a layup by Sharese Jones and 15-footer by Rice, both after steals.
The Bronchos (9-17, 2-16) led 57-52 after Hayley Bryan’s basket with 4:35 left, but they did not score again until Rachel New made a layup with 11 seconds left. In between, UCO missed four field goals, four free throws and turned the ball over once.
“Those last four minutes, we turned up our intensity defensively,” Lions coach Maryann Mitts said. “We put more pressure on the ball where they couldn’t see the post pass. They were getting the ball inside at will, and I felt their guards felt a little more rushed. We didn’t give up the 3-point shot, and we didn’t let them see inside.”
Tee Singleton’s two free throws and Erin Rice’s jumper — after two offensive rebounds by Hartzog extended the possession — pulled the Lions within a point. Clay sank two charities to give the Lions their first lead since the opening seconds of the half, and Rice’s basket off a drive from the top of the circle with 1:55 left and Hartzog’s one free throw gave the Lions a 61-57 lead with 35 seconds to play.
“Our kids withstood a lot of adversity,” Mitts said. “I thought we held our composure, and we kept the game close enough to where it never got away from us. And in those last four minutes, we talked about time and time again … we’ve been in that situation way too many times to get rattled. We knew how to win at the end of a ball game where maybe Central Oklahoma never had figured out how.”
After New’s basket, the Lions worked eight seconds off the clock before Jones was fouled. She calmly made both free throws for the final four-point cushion.
“She is as confident of a young lady as I’ve seen,” Mitts said. “She loves to be put in those situations, and both of those were nothing but net. She loves to be in those situations, and she loves to win.”
The Lions jumped out to a 17-6 lead in the first seven minutes, hitting 6-of-12 field goals and 2-of-4 from 3-point range. Rice had seven of the points but was whistled for her second foul with 11:08 left and sat the rest of the half.
Missouri Southern shot 52 percent in the half to UCO’s 38 percent, but the Lions’ foul problems helped the Bronchos cut the deficit to 38-36 at the break. The Bronchos hit 13-of-16 free throws — 8-of-9 in the last 4:12 — while the Lions were 6-of-7 and shot two free throws in the last 10 minutes.
“We almost got off to too good of a start,” Mitts said. “I knew that probably the ebb and flow of a basketball game, we were going to hit a lull, and that offensive lull came at the end of the first half and bled over into the second half.”
Center Alyssa Fuxa scored 16 points — 12 in the first half -- for UCO.