By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
Holding a one-point lead with just over a minute remaining, Missouri Southern knew where it wanted the basketball.
After a timeout, the Lions got the ball to Erin Rice, who made a jumper in the middle of the lane. They then converted 7-of-8 free throws in the closing 34 seconds to secure a 62-57 victory over Pittsburg State on Wednesday night at John Lance Arena.
The Lions (13-12, 7-10 MIAA) halted a six-game losing streak against the Gorillas (17-8, 11-6). The Lions also won consecutive conference games for the first time since early January and greatly improved their chances of hosting a play-in game in next week’s postseason tournament.
Centers Dominique Mosley and Shonte Clay scored 12 and 11 points, respectively, to lead the Lions. Mosley scored twice during a four-point possession — the Lions rebounded Mosley’s missed free throw — to take the lead for keeps 39-36 with 9:53 left.
“I was going in there with no fear, not letting the height (of PSU’s 6-foot-6 Lauren Brown) intimidate me,” Mosley said. “We know she is good. The coaches told us to go at her strong with intensity.”
“We hit a couple of 15-footers which helped,” Lions coach Maryann Mitts said. “Our whole team did a nice job of going at the rim. They really help hard with Lauren, and we did a great job of dribble penetrating and finding Lauren’s man. And on occasion we did a nice job of continuing through the contact. Once they made contract, our strength enabled us to finish the play.”
The Gorillas pulled within one point four times — the last at 53-52 when Lizzy Jeronimus made the front end of a two-shot free throw with 1:25 left. The Lions got the ball to Rice in the lane, and her jumper hit the back of the rim before falling through for a 55-52 lead with 58 seconds to play.
“We called a play that isolates me in the middle of the lane,” Rice said. “I expected (6-foot-6 Lauren) Brown to be there, and Jeronimus was right behind me also. I knew either was I was going to go, they were going to try to block my shot, so I just had confidence in the fadeaway and I let it drop.”
After the Gorillas missed a 3, the Lions wrapped up the game at the foul line as Tee Singleton made one with 34 seconds left and Nicole Hartzog, Singleton and Jolee Sharp each made two in the last 24 seconds.
“It took forever. I didn’t know when it was going to end,” said Rice, who also grabbed the game’s final rebound and dribbled out the last few seconds. “We were able to hit some free throws at the end to keep us up enough. We gave up that 3 in transition, which was a miscommunication between who had who. That made it a three-point game, and they had to foul us again, and we hit free throws at the end.”
Rice, Hartzog and Sharp contributed eight points apiece for the Lions. Rice also grabbed nine rebounds, Mosley eight and Clay seven as the Lions dominated the rebounding 48-33. The Lions held the advantage 26-20 in points in the paint, 17-10 in offensive rebounds and 13-8 in second-chance points.
“They were the more aggressive team and really controlled the boards,” PSU coach Lane Lord said. “And we’ve been rebounding the ball terrific for two or three weeks. You have to give credit to Missouri Southern. They deserved to win the game.”
Jerominus scored 17 points for the Gorillas, hitting 6-of-22 from the floor and 5-of-6 at the foul line. Drew Roberts and Alexa Bordewick had 12 and 11, respectively.
“I thought we made it really difficult on them for most of the 40 minutes,” Mitts said. “We knew it was going to take a great 40-minute ball game. They are too good of a basketball team, but we never let them go on any extended runs.”
“Southern took us out of everything we wanted to do,” Lord said. “They really pressured the wings, and we have little guards. They did a great job of that, but we were pretty passive about wanting the ball inside. We never really got it inside. That’s what we’ve been doing the last five games, getting the ball inside to Lauren and Kylie (Gafford) and Lizzy. But we couldn’t get that done tonight, and you have to credit Southern.”