The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

February 1, 2014

Southern reaches crucial stage in MIAA race

As the MIAA men’s basketball race moves into February, Northwest Missouri State tops the standings with a 10-1 league record, followed by Missouri Southern at 9-2 and Fort Hays State and Central Missouri both at 8-3.

Guess who the Lions play in their next three games?

First the Lions face Central Missouri this afternoon in Warrensburg. One week later, the Lions and Mules have a rematch in Joplin, and Northwest Missouri comes to MSSU on Feb. 12.

“This is a huge stretch,” Lions coach Robert Corn said. “It’s the most important stretch we’ve had in the season with the way everything is playing out.

“The next three games are crucial for us to do something this season. Fortunately after Saturday, we have the next two at home. But all three of them are going to be challenges, starting Saturday at Central.”

It’s also crucial for the Lions to focus on the immediate task at hand.

“You have to take them one game at a time,” Corn said. “If you’re fortunate enough to get that one or if they get you, you have to put it behind you and move on to the next one.”

The Lions (15-3 overall) finished 6-2 in January after holding on to win Thursday night’s 96-94 shootout at Southwest Baptist. The Lions scored 10 points more than their season average but they also yielded more than 79 points for the first time this season.

The Lions only trailed for a 13-second span (23-20) midway through the second half, but they never could open a comfortable lead.

The offense was effective from both the outside — 15 points from Lane Barlow, 13 from Marquis Addison and 12 on four treys from Austin Wright — and on the inside — 16 points from Jordan Talbert, 15 from Slim Magee and 13 from Greg Renfroe.

“It takes both,” Corn said. “You have to be able to make the outside jump shots in order to open things up on the inside, and you have to have someone who demands a little bit of a double team down low to get good looks at the basket on the perimeter.”

The Mules (16-4) haven’t played since last Saturday’s 77-58 home victory over Lindenwood. The Mules average 80.9 points — five less than the Lions — and allow only 68.4 points — two fewer than MSSU.

The game also matches two of the league’s best rebounding teams. Central Missouri has outrebunded its opponents by 7.6 boards per game, and the Lions own a 6.3 rebounding advantage.

“They are athletic, and they are going to be very well-coached,” Corn said. “They’ve had a week to prepare for us. We realize it’s going to be a tough challenge for us, but we’ll have a short day of preparation (Friday)  and go up there and try to play well.”

Dillon Deck, 6-foot-9 junior forward, and Daylen Robinson, 6-0 senior guard, averaged 13.7 and 11.8 points, respectively, to lead a balanced Mules’ attack.

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