By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Missouri Southern owned a 72-66 lead Monday night over Central Oklahoma in the last three minutes when Austin Wright got the ball at the top of the key.
Wright, the Lions’ freshman guard from Bixby, Okla., already had made four 3-point goals in the second half, and he was ready to pull the trigger again.
Instead, he passed the ball back toward midcourt, and the Lions worked about 10 seconds off the clock before Jordan Talbert was fouled and made a free throw.
“I really wanted to shoot it,” Wright said, “but I heard Coach on the sideline say ‘pull it out, pull it out.’ I hesitated, and I threw it back out to R.J. (Leverette). It was tough ... but I knew it was the right thing to do.”
“He eyed it up, but he made the right choice in that situation because we want to work the clock,” Lions coach Robert Corn said. “What’s crazy is he’s probably saying ‘well, make up your mind,’ because I’m always telling him to shoot. Then I finally tell him to pull it out.”
After passing to Leverette, Wright flashed a grin, and so did the Lions’ coaching staff.
“I turned to both Christian (Salecich, student coach) and Coach (Jeff) Boschee, and they just started laughing,” Wright said. “They knew I wanted to shoot it. It was funny.”
The Lions’ 85-77 victory over UCO clinched a spot in next week’s conference postseason tournament. Missouri Southern plays its final two regular-season games on the road, starting tonight at Pittsburg State.
“If you can’t get up for your rival game, you probably shouldn’t be playing the game or you’re playing for the wrong reasons,” said Marquis Addison, the Lions’ scoring leader at 17.8 points per game.
There’s certainly plenty at stake for both teams.
Coach Kevin Muff’s Gorillas (15-9, 8-8 MIAA) currently are the No. 7 seed — Lindenwood is not eligible for postseason play this season — and they can assure themselves of a home play-in game by winning tonight against the Lions or Saturday afternoon at home against Emporia State (12-12, 7-9 entering tonight’s home game against Washburn).
Missouri Southern (12-12, 7-9) can get a home game by winning tonight and Saturday afternoon at Central Oklahoma, and the Lions can be the seventh seed with two wins and one Emporia State loss.
Plus, the Sonic Trophy Series point will be awarded to tonight’s winner — the Lions for a season sweep and the Gorillas for a higher finish in the final standings after a season split. Pittsburg State leads the Sonic series this year 4-3, having clinched the women’s basketball point.
The Lions beat PSU 87-80 on Jan. 16 in Joplin behind a career-best 34 points from Addison, one more than he had the previous season against the Gorillas. Stephen Atkinson added 21 points, and Cameron Cornelius had 13.
Rico Pierrevilus had 21 points and 12 rebounds for the Gorillas, followed by JaVon McGee with 19, Courtney Ingram with 12 and Marky Nolen with 10.
The Lions had the better shooting night — 48 percent form the floor and 77 percent at the foul line to PSU’s 40 percent and 62 percent. The Gorillas owned a 44-33 rebounding advantage and a 27-4 margin in second-chance points.
“No. 1, we have to rebound,” Corn said. “We did a nice job Monday night (49-38 advantage), but Pitt State is such a physical team that we have to do a good job on the boards.
“And we have to go over there and make shots. We have to execute our offense, when you get a good look, you have to knock it down. We have to do a good job defensively. We can’t get beat off dribble penetration, and we can’t let them pound the ball inside against us.”
The Lions shot 50 free throws Monday night against UCO — their most attempts in the 14-year history of the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center. They made 33 charities — fourth most in building history behind 35-of-44 against Southwestern College on Nov. 28, 2009 and 34 twice on Jan. 3 — 34-of-47 against Missouri Western in 2004 and 34-of-40 against PSU in 2009.
Missouri Southern’s school record is 43 makes in 60 attempts against Washburn in an 82-80 victory on Feb. 27, 1993, in Robert Ellis Young Gymnasium.
On Monday night Wright made his first trips to the foul line all season. He missed two with 5:19 left in the first half and made 1-of-2 with 1:05 remaining in the game.
“I finally got the line, but I struggled for whatever reason,” Wright said. “I guess it was a lack of focus and being tired, I don’t know. But 1-for-4 is not going to cut it, so I have to work on that.”