The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

March 1, 2014

Lion men turn focus to region

Missouri Southern secured a third-place finish in the MIAA standings on Friday night, and the Lions did not even have to take the floor.

Northeastern State, playing its final season for retiring coach Larry Gipson, upset Fort Hays State 75-72 on Friday night in Hays, ending the Tigers’ chances of catching the Lions in the standings.

However, the Lions (20-5, 14-4 MIAA) still have a lot on the line when they close their regular season today at Lincoln.

The Lions slipped from third place to fourth in this week’s Central Region ranking as the Lions’ strength of schedule took a hit during the last two weeks of the season.

“The big thing we’re playing for Saturday is not just the MIAA but the Central Region,” Lions coach Robert Corn said. “The only way we can stay in (the regional rankings) is to keep winning, and we control our own destiny. We need to make sure we go to Lincoln and play well. Right now a loss to Lincoln would really hurt us.”

By contrast, Lincoln (3-23, 1-17) has no chance of making next week’s conference tournament. The Blue Tigers have lost five straight games since a 74-73 home victory over Lindenwood on Feb. 5.

“It’s their last game, and they are going to play pretty loose,” Corn said. “They are very athletic. It’s going to be a challenge for our defense. I think our defense has to be really good. If we let them beat us in penetration and start knocking down 3s, it’s going to be a long 40 minutes. It’s going to come down to us doing a good job defensively and limiting them to one shot.”

Forward Mike Smith and guard Joshua Buie, both juniors, average 16.0 and 15.4 points to lead the Blue Tigers. Buie scored 21 points and Smith 20 in Lincoln’s 76-63 loss at Missouri Southern on Jan. 15.

Cameron Cornelius led the Lions with 21 points, and Marquis Addison and Slim Magee had 13 and 12, respectively.

The Lions began their road trip Thursday night with a 90-74 victory at Lindenwood, extending their winning streak to five games. Magee scored the Lions’ first six points en route to a 17-point, 18-rebound performance, and Austin Wright hit six 3-point goals while scoring 23 points, matching his career high.

Two Wright treys helped stall a Lindenwood comeback late in the first half, and the Lions then scored the first seven points of the second half to open a 24-point cushion.

“It was 12, and it easily could have gotten back into single digits,” Corn said. “Austin hit a 3 and got us going again. That’s what you have to have … guys pick each other up and fortunately we were able to do that.”

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