By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Kaleb Wright’s two free throws and Paul Bunch’s blocked shot in the final minute helped Emporia State stun Missouri Southern 69-66 Saturday night at the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center.
The Lions (11-12, 6-9 MIAA) controlled the first 25 minutes and owned leads of 40-25 with 2:39 left in the first half, 40-31 at the intermission and 45-33 just over a minute into the second half.
“It went great,” Lions reserve center Greg Renfroe said. “We were playing together, playing solid defense. We had a lot of momentum coming into the second half.”
But the Hornets (11-11, 6-8) mounted a 13-0 run during the next four minutes to claim their first lead since the opening minute and set the stage for a seesaw second half that included eight lead changes and one tie.
“I really think the tide kind of turned the last two or three minutes in the first half,” Lions coach Robert Corn said. “We were up 15 and had things going, and we allowed them to go on a 6-0 run at the end of the first half. We did a poor job of executing the 2-for-1 (possessions), and we called a timeout specifically for that. That’s one thing we work on in practice all the time. We took a poor shot with way too much time on the game clock to get that opportunity done.”
Missouri Southern took its last lead, 64-62, on Stephen Atkinson’s three-point play with 5:58 left. The Lions’ only other points the rest of the way came on a goaltending call with 13 seconds left.
Bunch’s two free throws tied it with 5:11 left, and it remained 64-64 until Wright sank two free throws with 2:09 left and two more with 28 seconds to play for a four-point lead.
Between Wright’s trips to the foul line, the Lions’ defense set up an opportunity to tie the game. Marquis Addison came up with a steal off a double team, dribbled upcourt and passed to Atkinson on the break, but Atkinson missed the layup. Jordan Talbert got the rebound, but his shot was blocked by Bunch.
After Chris Sights made one charity for a three-point lead with 11 seconds left, the Lions had one final possession to tie. The Hornets almost made a steal, but the Lions’ R.J. Leverette got the ball near midcourt, and he was grabbed around the waist with 1.2 seconds left before he could attempt a shot. Leverette missed the 1-and-1, and the Hornets rebounded.
Guard Austin Wright and Renfroe scored 10 points apiece off the bench to lead the Lions. Renfroe and Bryan Adams combined for 10 first-half points after Jordan Talbert picked up two early fouls.
“J.T. is a great post, and it’s great to practice against him every day,” Renfroe said. “When he gets in foul trouble, the team counts on me to come in and pick up the slack and play just as well as he did, if not better. Everyone on the bench is important because you never know when you’re going to get called on. When you do get called on, you have to come out big.”
“I thought Greg and Bryan did a nice job, particularly in the first half,” Corn said. “They did a good job of battling the big guy, and when they had some opportunities, they were able to convert on them.”
Marquis Addison and Talbert, the Lions’ season scoring leaders, both sat extended minutes on the bench in foul trouble and finished with nine and eight points, respectively. Atkinson also had nine points, and Blaine Miller scored eight.
Wright scored 13 of his game-high 23 points in the second half, and Bunch finished with 16 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks as the Hornets swept the Lions for the first time in six seasons.