The opening minutes proved to be an omen.
Missouri Southern did not make a field goal in the first eight minutes, and the Lions’ shooting woes continued during a 76-67 loss to Fort Hays State on Saturday afternoon at the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center.
The Lions (9-2, 3-1 MIAA) matched their season low with 19 field goals and shot a season-low 38.8 percent. They made 9-of-27 shots in the second half, including only two from the perimeter.
“We shot 45 percent the first half, and I felt we could come out and make a run,” Lions coach Robert Corn said. “But then we turn around and shoot 33 percent in the second half. You’re not going to win any games in this league, and you’re certainly not going to beat Fort Hays shooting 33 percent in one half.”
Point guard Craig Nicholson, last year’s conference freshman of the year, tallied a game-high 22 points to lead Fort Hays State (9-3, 1-3). He made 5-of-15 field goals and all 11 of his free-throw attempts.
“He makes us go,” Tigers coach Mark Johnson said. “He’s probably the only guy on our team who can take it off the bounce and make things happen.
“We surround him with shooters, so he has to do a lot for us. He has to battle through fatigue a lot. We expect him to guard the other point guard, and he really has to push the ball and make all the plays. He’s one of the better point guards — and one of the better players in the MIAA.”
“He’s a heck of point guard,” Corn said. “He controls things .. if they are going to work the clock 25 or 30 seconds, he’s going to have it in his hands for 20 seconds. He’s just a hard matchup, not only for us but for anybody in the league.”
Forward Jake Stoppel set a career high with 14 points for the Tigers, who shot 44 percent and ended a three-game losing streak on the Lions’ floor.
Marquis Addison paced the Lions with 17 points, followed by Cameron Cornelius with 14 and Jordan Talbert with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
The Lions missed their first seven shots, four of them 3-pointers, before Slim Magee made a spin move on the left block for a field goal with 11:57 left in the half.
“We got shots we wanted,” Corn said. “If we’re taking bad shots or rushing shots, you can say we didn’t execute. But we were executing really good and got good looks at the basket. We missed layups, we missed jump shots. We never got into any type of offensive rhythm.”
“We came out kind of sluggish,” Cornelius said. “We didn’t come out with a chip on our shoulder because how low we got picked in the (preseason conference) rankings.”
“We had lot of missed shots that we usually make, but you can’t blame the game on missed shots. That’s basketball. You’re going to miss shots. If you can get stops, you can come back and make shots.”
The Lions recovered from their slow start to lead 31-26 on Talbert’s two free throws with 5:36 left in the half. The Tigers then ran off eight straight points, and a three-point play by Nicholson and James Fleming’s 3-pointer at the buzzer gave FHSU a 42-37 halftime lead.
The Tigers never relinquished the lead in the second half, and Fleming’s steal and layup gave them their biggest lead, 66-54, with 9:30 left.
“We didn’t turn it on in the second half from the get-go,” Cornelius said. “It was little spurts, like we’d do it for two possessions in a row and then they would go up four more or six more points. When you’re in a situation like that, you have to man up and get stops.”
The opening minutes proved to be an omen.
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