By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
ST. CHARLES, Mo. —
Back home in St. Charles, Sharese Jones stood at the foul line approximately five miles from her high school — Francis Howell Central.
With many friends and family looking on, Jones sank two free throws with 12 seconds left, and Missouri Southern held on to nip Lindenwood 78-74 Thursday night at Hyland Arena.
Senior Erin Rice tallied a season-high 21 points—including two key baskets down the stretch — to lead five players in double figures for Missouri Southern (9-3, 3-1 MIAA). Shonte Clay hit all five shots from the field and had 12 points, and Jones, Shatara Stone and Tee Singleton each had 10.
The Lions trailed only once in the second half and led by 4-7 points for most of the half. But Lindenwood (3-9, 0-4) ran off eight straight points and took a 69-67 lead on Sarah Schnieders’ layin with 2:51 left. Schnieders topped Lindenwood with 21 points.
On the Lions’ ensuing possession, Rice got the ball near the right sideline, drove to the middle of the lane and hit the jumper to tie the game. After a Lindenwood turnover, Rice started from the left side and hit another shot in the lane to give the Lions a 71-69 lead with 2:01 left.
“That (two-point deficit) really fired me up,” said Rice, who had an uncle and some cousins from Illinois in the crowd. “When I looked up at the scoreboard, I told myself I’m taking this game over.
“When I got it in the corner, I saw the lane was wide open. I like going from that in and pulling up for the jumper. I took that opportunity, being as wide open as it was.”
“At the end, we found some offenses that would work, offenses we hadn’t run much,” MSSU coach Maryann Mitts said. “Late in the game, we went into Erin. We spread it out and gave her some touches. She was shooting the ball well. We (cut back) on what we were doing a little bit and took the best shot.”
The Lions made enough free throws down the stretch to maintain the lead, none bigger than the two by Jones for a 77-72 lead with 12 seconds left.
“My nerves were up a little bit,” said Jones, who also received light applause from some Lindenwood fans during pregame introductions.“They were, but you just have to stay composed, stay focused in the game.
“I really was looking forward to this game. I was excited to come back home. We had an amazing crowd out there, and I was excited to come back and play in front of friends and family. I saw them, I heard them. It was awesome.”
Rice had confidence with Jones at the line.
“I went up to her and said just knock these down,” Rice said. “She said ‘I got you.’ I knew right then … I’m going to stay back here (on the defensive end) and pick up people when they come down. I have total confidence in ‘Winkie.’ ”
“I’m proud of Sharese,” Mitts said. “I wanted her to go get the ball at the end of the game. I think she has the maturity. She’s very cool. She’s mature beyond her freshman year. She hit some big shots for us and did a great job of finishing at the end.”
The Lions, trailing 22-15 with 7:21 left in first half, rallied to take a 37-36 halftime lead. Rice and Clay combined to score the Lions’ first 15 points, then Jones, Dominque Mosley and Stone had five points apiece in the last seven minutes of the half, which included seven lead changes.
The Lions shot 50 percent in the half, Lindenwood 54 percent. But Lindenwood dominated the boards 18-9, including six offensive rebounds (producing seven points) to zero offensive boards for MSSU.
“I have to give a lot of credit to Lindenwood,” Mitts said. “I knew watching them on film, they were getting better every game. The 50-50 plays, they were a step ahead of us. We had matchup problems at the beginning of the game. It took us a good 6-8 minutes to figure out matchups.”
MSSU shot 58 percent in the second half and 53 percent (24-of-45) for the game. Lindenwood hit 51 percent (28-of-55) and outrebounded the Lions 30-28. But Lindenwood was 14-of-26 at the foul line — 2-of-7 in the last five minutes — while the Lions made 24-of-32 charities — 6-of-10 in the last five minutes.