The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


January 19, 2014

Defense sets up MSSU's offense

Nicole Hartzog’s defense ignited not only her offense but also the offense for her teammates.

Hartzog, 5-foot-7 junior, tallied a career-best 26 points, and her three steals sparked an early 12-0 burst that propelled Missouri Southern to an 86-62 victory over Lincoln on Saturday afternoon at the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center.

Hartzog, continuously effective on her patented drives toward the goal, sank 12-of-15 field goals. She made both of her 3-point attempts and missed her only free throw for 26 points, seven more than her previous best for the Lions.

“I’ve been in kind of a slump lately with my field-goal percentage,” said Hartzog, who was 7-for-34 in her previous four games. “Thankfully my shots went in. My teammates got me the ball. I think I had more confidence today.”

“It’s nice to see her finish baskets today because she really has been struggling finishing to the rim,” Lions coach Ronda Hubbard said. “She was aggressive and really accelerating to the basket. That’s what we’ve been talking to her about ... she had been slowing up as she got to the bucket, and she’s so quick and kind of wiggles through people, sees angles and can score in angles that not a lot of people can. It makes her a difficult player to guard.”

Sophomore guard Sharese Jones scored 18 points on a near-perfect shooting game — 7-of-7 field goals and 4-of-5 free throws for the Lions (12-3, 6-2 MIAA), who improved to 9-0 at home this season. Senior center Shonte Clay made 8-of-11 field goals for 16 points. Jones and Clay grabbed seven rebounds apiece as the Lions held a 31-24 advantage on the boards.

Hartzog also established a career-high seven steals, the first three during a 12-0 spurt that turned a seven-point deficit into a five-point lead in less than three minutes.

“Our coaches got us really prepared for the offenses they were going to be running,” Hartzog said. “We were able to anticipate where the passes were going to go.”

“We had to make sure that we stayed on top of the ‘D’ so it would go back and help us on the offensive side,” Jones said. “Nick did get some early steals for us, and I think that brought up our energy on the defensive side.”

Ahead 24-19, the Lions broke away with a 23-4 outburst during a five-minute stretch for a 47-23 lead on Tee Singleton’s third 3-pointer with 4:02 left in the half. Jones scored four buckets in the run, the last two set up by passes from Dominique Mosley and Alexis Fitzpatrick, and Clay had consecutive passes on the inside with assists from Samantha Soyez.

“That was working together as a team, setting each other screens and making sure we cut hard,” Jones said.

The Lions made 17-of-21 shots while turning the early seven-point deficit into a 24-point lead.

“Obviously us shooting such a high percentage came from our defensive presence,” Hubbard said. “I’ve been pleased with our defense over the stretch that we’ve had, but I feel like we have more in us on the defensive end. I can really see that we can a special team on that end. You see glimpses of it in games, but you don’t see it for 40 minutes. But when you do see it, you’re like yes, there it is. I think today we had longer stretches of it, and we got a lot of easy buckets because of it.”

The Lions, who led 47-35 at halftime, shot 65 percent (35-of-54) for the game to Lincoln’s 39 percent (19-of-49).

Guard Jennifer Rosado sank 16-of-18 free throws while scoring 26 points for the Blue Tigers (3-12, 0-8). Freshman guard Hunter Yoakum added 13 points.                                                                                                              

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