By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
While Missouri Southern is the last of the 15 MIAA teams to open conference play, the Lions certainly played a great conference tuneup with last Saturday’s 62-59 victory over Drury.
“I already explained it,” Lions coach Maryann Mitts said with a laugh minutes after the game. “I told them every game from here on was going to be like this. Half of them were excited, and half of them are going to have to get used to it.”
Senior forward Erin Rice and junior guard Shatara Stone are the only Lions who have experienced MIAA play.
“It’s a grind every day. It’s going to be a battle (like the Drury game) every single game,” Stone said. “We have to be ready to fight and love the fight every game.”
The Lions open league play today at Truman State in a matchup of one-loss teams. The Lions haven’t won at Pershing Arena since 2008, and today’s game is the Lions’ first true road game this season.
“That’s the next obstacle, the next little hill we need to get over,” Mitts said. “Again, it’s another great challenge.”
Truman State won its first five games before dropping a 71-64 decision at Missouri Western on Wednesday night. The Griffons, in avenging a two-point nonconference loss to the Bulldogs, took control with an 11-0 spurt in the first half.
The Bulldogs shot 53 percent overall and 48 percent from 3-point range but were 12-of-20 at the foul line and hampered by foul trouble.
Senior Becka McHenry, averaging a team-leading 12.5 points, picked up three fouls in nine minutes and did not score in the first half. Jennifer Conway led the Bulldogs with 14 points, 10 in the first half.
Missouri Southern has won six straight since its season-opening loss to Mary (N.D.) in the Pittsburg State Classic. The Lions displayed a team effort in overcoming a 14-point, second-half deficit to beat Drury.
“Even people who didn’t play significant minutes really stepped up,” Stone said. “Even the people who didn’t get in the game at all, they were encouraging on the bench giving tips out ... watch this, watch that. It was an all-around team effort.”
A team effort has been instrumental in the Lions’ best start since the 2008-09 season when they won seven of their first eight games.
No Lion carries a double-figure scoring average, but six players average at least six points, and three more average four or five points.
Shonte Clay is just below double figures at 9.9 points per game, followed by Jolee Sharp at 9.6, Dominique Mosley at 8.4, Rice at 7.7 and Stone at 7.0.
The Lions average 69.1 points per game, 12 more than their opponents, and they own a 6.9 advantage in rebounds. The Lions are shooting 46 percent from the floor and 73 percent at the foul line compared to the opposition’s 37 percent field goals and 69 percent free throws. The 3-point goal percentages are identical — 34 percent, with the opponents sinking 43 treys, four more than the Lions.